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Guatemalan twins delay trip back home

By Edward Chiao and David Zisser

Oct. 27, 2002 9:00 p.m.

Formerly conjoined twins Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa had
their expected trip home delayed because of “wound-care
issues,” according to hospital officials.

The girls were expected to fly home to Guatemala this week, but
doctors at Mattel Children’s Hospital are keeping Maria de
Jesus hospitalized to allow more time to recover from surgery to
clean and close her scalp incisions.

The decision to keep Maria de Jesus hospitalized was made by
lead plastic surgeon Henry Kawamoto.

“Due to wound healing issues, Maria de Jesus must remain
at the hospital,” said UCLA spokeswoman Roxanne Moster.

When the girls are ready to go back home, a UCLA medical team,
including doctors, three nurses, a physical/occupational therapist
and a representative from the hospital, will accompany the twins
and their parents on the five-hour flight from Burbank to Guatemala
City.

The girls cannot not fly home on a commercial flight, since they
will require medical attention should anything unexpected happen,
according to Cris Embleton, director of the local chapter of
Healing the Children, the nonprofit group responsible for bringing
the twins to UCLA.

Instead, FedEx will provide a corporate jet, arranged by
Embleton’s son, who works for the company.

She is also in the process of trying to arrange a bus to bring
the rest of the girls’ family from their village in Guatemala
to greet the girls at the airport in Guatemala City.

From the airport, the girls will go directly to a hospital in
Guatemala City, where the UCLA medical team will prepare the staff
there for the twins’ special needs before returning on
Friday. The parents will spend a day or two with their daughters
before returning to their village.

Both of the 15-month-old girls, whose motor skills resemble
those of 9- or 10-month-olds, have made significant headway since
their separation surgery in August.

Maria Teresa was recovering more slowly than her sister because
of post-separation complications. Maria Teresa had blood clots
forming on her brain that had to be surgically removed.

Both of the girls are eating solid foods and enjoy riding in the
hospital’s child-sized red wagons.

Maria de Jesus gives “high fives,” blows air kisses,
and can push herself up while resting on her stomach, but has not
yet begun to crawl.

Her neck remains at an angle because of the way she and her
sister were joined, but physical therapists are working with her to
correct the problem.

Though the girls do not currently have a normal set of hair and
are missing bone where they were joined at the head, they will
undergo more surgery in a few years to correct that, according to
Kawamoto.

“When everything is healed, you won’t know they had
any sort of operation,” he said.

Once they return home, the next step is to gradually stretch the
twins’ scalps so that the girls can grow a full head of hair,
he said.

The girls, who were joined at the head, underwent a 23-hour
separation surgery at UCLA on Aug. 6.

UCLA accepted the twins’ case for humanitarian and
research purposes and has taken on the $1.5 million cost for the
surgery and hospitalization of the twins.

Since their arrival on June 7, the twins have attracted national
and international media attention. Their parents, Alba Leticia
Alvarez and Wenceslao Quiej Lopez, have remained out of the media
spotlight, choosing instead to focus on their daughters.

“They are so relieved that the worst is behind them, and
now they can go home and be a family,” Embleton said.

While those involved in the twins’ case are also relieved
to see the girls will soon return home healthy and happy, they have
formed close bonds with the girls, who have developed distinctly
individual and dynamic personalities.

“It is hard to say goodbye, but we look forward to hearing
future news about two communions, two educations, two boyfriends
and two weddings,” said Dr. Jorge Lazareff, head neurosurgeon
on the twins’ medical team, in a statement.

Embleton remains grateful for all the work Kawamoto, Lazareff,
and the entire team have devoted to the twins’ care.

“What they have given these two little girls is a
future,” said Embleton, who plans on visiting the twins
regularly, starting this February.

“Their lives would have been so bleak without this
surgery, and now they have the possibility of having a normal
life,” she added.

With reports from The Associated Press.

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