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Guatemalan Twins Are Making Progress, Medical Team Says

May 28, 2003|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

One of the Guatemalan twins who returned to UCLA last week with medical complications is in excellent health, while the other is progressing more slowly, doctors said Tuesday.

Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez, who were born almost two years ago joined at the head, returned to UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital because Maria Teresa had contracted E. coli meningitis and Maria de Jesus had experienced a convulsion due to a high fever, doctors said.

Maria de Jesus, however, appears to be healthy, said Jorge Lazareff, lead neurosurgeon for the twins' medical team and director of pediatric neurosurgery.

"She could have gone home the day after she got here," Lazareff said.

Her convulsion, he said, occurred once and is not uncommon in very young children with high fevers.

Maria Teresa is in stable condition and will have a new shunt placed in her brain to drain fluids, probably Thursday, Lazareff said. The meningitis impaired her renal system, he said, "and for that reason she can't handle well the extra fluid."

Although their parents were not able to accompany them, the girls have been reunited with the staff who cared for them in the months after their surgery, and they have been surrounded by relatives who never leave their sides.

"Maria de Jesus is doing well. She has tons of friends here," Lazareff said. "Maria Teresa is not as expressive, but I'm sure in her own way she feels the love she's been receiving."

Lazareff said he had spoken with the girls' parents, Wenceslao Quiej and Alba Leticia Alvarez, by cell phone. The conversation was brief, but he tried to convey his optimism, he said.

"They are full of confidence in the care the girls are receiving," Lazareff said.

Chris Embleton of Healing the Children, the nonprofit agency that sponsored the twins' trips to UCLA, said plans were made to return the girls to the U.S. after their distraught father called and asked her to contact Lazareff.

"We've been concerned for several weeks about the fact that Maria Teresa was getting worse," Embleton said.

Once she and the UCLA team arrived in Guatemala to get the twins, the girls' mother rushed over, Embleton said: "The moment she saw us, she jumped up and ran over and started crying and said, 'Chris, please save my babies.' "

Both Lazareff and reconstructive surgeon Henry Kawamoto said the girls have been receiving good care in Guatemala and probably will not need to return to the U.S. for further treatment. In five or six years, the girls will be ready to have their skull caps reconstructed, Kawamoto said, which might be done at UCLA.

In spite of the recent setback, Lazareff said, he expects both twins to thrive.

"They will amaze all of us," he said.

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