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SEPARATED TWINS RESPONSIVE BABIES MAKE PROGRESS AFTER RARE SURGERY.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

Formerly conjoined twins separated this week during a marathon procedure at UCLA Medical Center opened their eyes and responded to stimulation Thursday - a positive sign in critical stages after surgery.

Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez and her year-old twin, Maria Teresa, pulled away from medical staffers when they were touched, doctors said. Maria de Jesus, the more serious-minded of the twins, even looked around and slightly moved her arms and legs.

``(Maria de Jesus is) a little ahead of her sister, but that is not unusual. We remain cautiously optimistic about the long-term prospects of Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus,'' said Dr. Jorge Lazareff, the twins' chief neurosurgeon. ``There are still many medical hurdles to cross.''

After the 22-hour surgery to separate the sisters, who were joined at the skull, the twins were put under paralysis-inducing drugs to keep them still. But after doctors withdrew those drugs, Maria de Jesus briefly blinked her eyes.

Doctors at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA Medical Center said it was not surprising that Maria de Jesus showed the first signs of lucidity, since surgeons had rushed her sister back to the operating room nearly five hours after the separation to relieve bleeding on the brain.

While the babies from Guatemala are no longer under medical paralysis, they will remain under sedation for at least the next few days. Doctors said they hoped to remove the girls from respirators in the next day or two.

The twins arrived from Guatemala in June with help from Healing the Children, a nonprofit organization that facilitates medical services for children from around the world.

The babies' parents, Wenceslao Quiej Lopez, 21, and 23-year-old Alba Leticia Alvarez, have been staying with relatives in Los Angeles when not visiting their heavily bandaged, still-critical daughters.

The two Marias - ``Las Maritas,'' as they've been affectionately named in Guatemala and throughout the Spanish-speaking world - have been receiving nutrients intravenously.

Dr. Andy Madikians, attending the babies in the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit, expected the twins to be on a more complex diet by today.

``Through the IV, they will get a high concentration of glucose, multivitamins - things you usually get from your diet,'' Madikians said. ``They'll get lipids, extra amounts of sugar and different electrolytes.''

Back in the family's rural village of Belen, Guatemala, relatives and residents were having a feast of their own, as the women prepared fresh tortillas and a traditional sweetened rice drink for celebration of the babies' separation and survival.

Speakers blaring traditional music were affixed on the tin roof of the family's home in the village about 125 miles south of Guatemala City.

``I am so happy that they were able to separate them,'' said Loida de Jesus Hernandez, the twins' grandmother. ``Before the operation, we cried when we saw them like that. We suffered for nearly a year.''

The twins, born July 25, 2001, after their mother endured nearly eight days of labor, were joined at the tops of their skulls facing opposite directions. With the success of the rare and complicated surgery, doctors, relatives and well-wishers around the world are eager for the sisters to finally see each other.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 9, 2002
Words:536
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