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Team of Doctors Begins First Major Surgery for Peru's 'Little Mermaid'

June 01, 2005|From Associated Press

LIMA, Peru — Surgeons began a delicate operation late Tuesday on Peru's "little mermaid," a baby born with her legs fused from her thighs to her ankles.

The surgery was the first of three planned to repair the rare birth defect.

Thirteen-month-old Milagros Cerron giggled and played on her hospital bed ahead of the surgery. She is about the size and weight of a normal 6-month-old.

The operation was to last four to six hours, said Dr. Luis Rubio, leader of a team of 11 surgeons.

"Today is the big day awaited by the entire world, by her parents, by her and by us. We have prepared an entire hospital for her," Rubio said in an interview, adding that he was "tremendously optimistic" the surgery would be successful.

Milagros, whose name means "miracles" in Spanish, was born with a congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome," which occurs in one out of every 70,000 births.

There are only three known children with the affliction alive, Rubio said.

Milagros' father, Ricardo Cerron, 24, broke into tears as Rubio began the surgery. The baby's mother, Sara Arauco, 19, put her hand to her mouth.

Tuesday night's operation was the first of three complicated surgeries to separate her legs. The objective of the first procedure is to separate the legs from the heels to the knees.

The doctors who will perform the operation include plastic surgeons, pediatricians and heart specialists.

Rubio said the medical team was operating at night because the doctors wanted to perform surgery when the public hospital would be quietest.

The medical team will also examine the knee ligaments to prepare for the next operation, which Rubio said would take place in several months.

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