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Once-Conjoined Twins May Leave L.A. Tuesday

The girls are recovering and will get further care in their native Guatemala.

October 26, 2002|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

The conjoined twins who were separated in a 22-hour operation at UCLA Medical Center in early August could return home to Guatemala as early as Tuesday, officials said.

Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa Quiej Alvarez, who have been undergoing physical therapy to learn how to crawl, eat and use their heads independently, are expected to be well enough next week to travel and return to a hospital in Guatemala, where they will continue their recovery.

The girls, who shared a skull and some important blood vessels, were separated by a team of surgeons who cut through the babies' skull, redirected some veins and covered the exposed brains with skin grafts.

Dr. Henry Kawamoto Jr., the lead plastic surgeon for the girls' medical team, said that one of the skin grafts on Maria de Jesus' head, the size of a nickel, had not properly healed.

How that wound heals will determine whether the 1-year-old girls are released from the Westwood hospital next week.

"We will know by Sunday," said Kawamoto. "The main thing is, neither is in danger."

Since the initial surgery, Maria Teresa has undergone three surgical procedures to remove blood from her brain.

But surgeons are optimistic about the girls' recovery.

If Maria de Jesus is well enough to travel, the girls will leave UCLA Tuesday morning with their parents, Alba Leticia Alvarez and Wenceslao Quiej-Lopez, and board a plane for Guatemala that day at Burbank Airport. FedEx will provide a corporate jet for their ride home.

Cris Embleton, founder of Healing the Children, the nonprofit group that sponsored the twins' trip to the United States, said that because of the neural surgery, "we didn't want a bumpy ride."

The corporate jet, she said, will be able to fly at higher altitudes, with less turbulence than a passenger jet.

A UCLA medical team, including a neurologist, a pediatric intensive care doctor, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist and two nurses, will travel on the plane as well and will oversee the girls' transfer to physicians at a state hospital in Guatemala City.

The Guatemalan Pediatric Foundation, which worked with Healing the Children to bring the girls to the United States, will oversee their care there.

The girls still face months of physical therapy and eventually more surgeries to stretch their scalps, eliminate the skin grafts and allow for full heads of hair.

Kawamoto said he expects that surgeons in Guatemala City will perform those operations.

Kawamoto and the rest of the UCLA medical team that operated on the twins donated their services. UCLA is absorbing the cost of the twins' medical care, estimated at $1.5 million.

Embleton, who will accompany the girls back to Guatemala, said she is grateful for the many people who have helped the girls reach this point.

"I have to just stand back in awe that so many people said, 'I'll do it,' and made this happen."

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