The twins are rarely separated long enough for their personalities to become split, and even when they are apart, they feel a sense of being connected to each other. On March 27, 1985, Yvonne was on vacation with a friend on Treasure Cay, an island in the Bahamas, when she woke out of a deep sleep at 3 a.m. "I didn't know what was wrong," she says, "but I knew something bad had happened." Her father telephoned later that morning and told her that in Miami at 10 o'clock the previous evening Yvette had lost control of her car, slammed into a building and hit her head on the windshield.
Yvette was still unconscious when Yvonne reached North Miami General Hospital, and she remained in a coma for three weeks. "The doctors didn't know if she'd ever come out of it," says Yvonne. "While she was unconscious, I didn't know what to do. I felt lost most of the time. We had a really tough time being separated."
After Yvette finally regained consciousness, for a couple of weeks she spoke only Swedish, the first language that she and Yvonne had learned. "It was like being born all over again," Yvette says now.
Yvonne laid the groundwork for Yvette's rehabilitation. The first thing she did was try to clear the cobwebs from her twin's memory. "I put our pictures from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED on the wall in her hospital room to try to make her remember who she was," says Yvonne. Not until Yvette awoke from the coma did the doctors discover that she had cracked two vertebrae in her neck in the accident. To prevent any further damage to her spine, the doctors had to immobilize her head for three months by putting it in a halo brace, which looks like a medieval instrument of torture: Metal pins are drilled into the patient's skull to hold the metal ring in place, like a headband.
Philip Villanueva, Yvette's neurologist, noticed the SI pictures hanging on the walls around her hospital bed, and when the brace was placed on her, he insisted that the holes be drilled in the sides of her head. "I heard him arguing with another doctor about it, because they usually do the drilling in the front," Yvonne says. "Whenever we get modeling jobs now, Yvette sends the doctor copies of the pictures to thank him for not leaving marks on her forehead."
Yvonne spent hours with her sister every day, helping her learn to walk and talk all over again. Yvette did finger exercises to learn to write, such as forming the letter A over and over again, just as she had done in grammar school. To regain her balance and hand-eye coordination, every day she tried to hit tennis balls that Yvonne fed to her.
The one thing that Yvette was determined to do without any help from her family was learn to drive a car again. So on the sly she enrolled in a driving school. "I had gotten myself in this fix, and I wanted to get myself out of it," she says. Though Yvette has remarkably few traces of the accident, she must still struggle occasionally to maintain her balance, and she has a bit of a speech problem (she has also acquired a slight Swedish accent). "Everything's sort of a challenge now," she says.
The twins' biggest challenge may be yet to come, for Yvonne has found a young swain and the two have begun talking about settling down. The possibility always existed that one of them might one day leave the other, but until recently the idea of separation had never seemed quite real.
"I had always hoped Yvette would get married first, because I'm more independent than she is," says Yvonne, who works as a dental assistant. "Now that I'm spending a lot of time with my boyfriend, Yvette and I are having a tough time splitting up. It's really hard. I feel like I'm being pulled in two different directions."
Yvette, who occasionally also works as a dental assistant, plans to enroll in a vocational school to become a surgical technologist. ("I think I just like blood," she says. "The gorier, the better.") She considers the transformation that her life is about to undergo yet another form of rebirth.