Doctor! Doctor!

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS
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Illustration by Mark Steele

Fraternal or identical? The twin brothers Vincent and Eugene Dinescu claim they are the latter. Here are some reasons why:

They both stand 5'10" and weigh 190 pounds. They look — identical. Even their vein and muscle patterns are virtual mirror images of each other’s. They display the congruent thinking associated with identicals. They’re both pre-med General Studies students, due to graduate this spring.

But not everything about them is the same. Eugene lives in Riverdale, has a website, and is single; Vince lives on West 112th Street and lacks a Web presence but not a girlfriend. Nor do they always look alike. Recently, Vince shaved his head, while Eugene has thick, dark hair. Vince wears glasses; Eugene does not. And then there’s the small matter of their birth certificates, which say, officially: fraternal.

So while it’s possible that the Dinescus are Morningside’s version of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — fraternal twins who simply bear a remarkable likeness to each other — they won’t know for sure until they get genetically tested. “We have a theory that we were wrongly identified as fraternal,” says Eugene, the younger by a minute.

There have been several pairs of identical twins at Columbia who have continued to lead parallel lives as adults. Among them are ArtsPower National Touring Theatre founding co-directors Gary and Mark Blackman ’78CC, the jugglers Jake and Marty LaSalle ’07CC, and Daniel and Gabriel Castillo ’10CC, who competed for spots on Panama’s 2012 Olympic boxing team.

The Dinescus can relate to that kind of affinity. “We want to end up at the same med school,” says Eugene, seated with Vince in a room in Lerner Hall, dressed in a light gray suit, white shirt, and blue tie. “There’s no way I’d have any motivation to be the best I could be if I didn’t have my brother alongside me.”

“If you look at couples who’ve been married for twenty, thirty years, there are still things they may not tell each other,” says Vince, wearing a tan suit and a pink, open-collared shirt. “But when you’re twins, you can say anything you want to say. It’s total freedom. It’s like you’re talking to yourself.”

“Do you know how comforting that can be?” Eugene says. “For the psyche? In a very difficult environment like med school, it can be very beneficial.”

Born on June 18, 1989, to Romanian immigrants, the Dinescu twins grew up in North Brunswick, New Jersey. They were so close that when they entered John Adams Elementary School, they couldn’t bear to be away from each other. “The moment I got to school,” Eugene recalls, “I would go to my class for attendance, and as soon as the teacher turned her back I would be gone to find my brother.”

Such antics prompted counselors to separate the two and place Eugene in a school on the other side of town. The pair reconnected in fourth grade. Eugene spent much of his time trying to catch up to Vince academically. He also began leading him astray.

“We would routinely skip homeroom in order to enjoy a McDonald’s breakfast down the street,” Eugene recalls, “or cut the entire day to go over to our friend’s house.”

When they were fifteen, an agent for Boss Models spotted them on a Manhattan street. That led to a couple of years of engagements doing commercial print work in fitness and apparel (“lots of underwear ads,” says Eugene). “We were dating older girls,” says Vince. “It was good because we were exposed to —”

Eugene interrupts him. “Let’s just say we had a very active dating experience.”

Modeling jobs led to more missed classes, as did their mother’s struggle with cancer. Instead of graduating from high school, they took and passed the GED on the same day. Then, together, they entered Middlesex County College, in Edison, New Jersey. Even their part-time jobs overlapped: both were mortgage consultants, as well as bouncers at various New Jersey nightclubs.

“The club owners thought we were cops,” says Vince. “They liked us because we both had shaved heads at that time.” As far as actual bouncing was concerned, their approaches differed. It was Vince, the quieter one, who tended to be the chucker-out. “I think he did it 99 percent of the time,” says Eugene. “Me, I always tried talking to the person and avoided any sort of physical altercation.”

That would befit the do-no-harm ethic of medicine, a profession whose seed was planted early in the minds of the Dinescus when their father, having learned his wife was pregnant, brought home a richly illustrated medical encyclopedia. The twins discovered it when they were three. “We found it fascinating right from the start,” says Vince. “We picked up the book, and there were all these cool diagrams. We were both very good at drawing, and so we started copying them.”

One of these days, the two say, they’ll get to the bottom of their true nature. In the meantime, their close, complex, and sometimes confusing relationship matters more to them than appearances or DNA. At one point Vince asks Eugene, as if seeking reassurance, “We’ve balanced each other out, very much so, isn’t that right?”

“Yeah,” replies his brother, “I would say there’s a nice balance.”

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