Karel Navarro  /  AP
Milagros Cerron, who was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome," walks during her second birthday. There are only three known cases of children with the affliction alive in the world today.
updated 4/28/2006 4:06:29 PM ET 2006-04-28T20:06:29

Smiling, blowing kisses and taking small assisted steps, Peru’s “miracle baby” celebrated her second birthday Thursday nearly a year after doctors successfully performed risky surgery to separate her fused legs.

Milagros Cerron, whose name means “miracles” in Spanish, was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or “mermaid syndrome.”

The condition is almost always fatal. Milagros, however, has survived and grown into an alert, vivacious little girl.

“She can take steps holding onto furniture or a chair,” said Dr. Luis Rubio, head of a team of surgeons who operated on her in June 2005. “Also, if she is sitting, she can grab onto something and stand up.”

To demonstrate her progress, Rubio held the child’s hands as she took small, shuffling steps during the party in the public hospital where her surgery took place.

He said that on May 25, Milagros will undergo another operation to separate a remaining two inches of fused tissue just below the groin.

“That will permit the child to perfectly take a long step,” he said.

She will need 10 years more of reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation, he said.

Her hips are narrow and small, she has a deformed left kidney and a very small right one located very low in her body. In addition, her digestive and urinary tracts and her genitals share a single tube.

Dressed in a hot-pink shirt, blue jeans, white shoes and a red headband, Milagros enthusiastically blew out candles on a birthday cake shaped like the Walt Disney character “Little Mermaid,” the nickname she is known by in Peru.

Born with her legs fused to the ankles and her feet splayed, she appeared like one of the mythical sea creatures before her operation.

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Rubio said Tiffany Yorks, a 17-year-old American, was the only other person known to have undergone a successful surgery to correct the rare congenital defect, which occurs in one out of every 70,000 births and is almost always fatal within days of birth.

'Doctor' her first word
Milagros is small for her age, about the size of a 1-year-old, and all of her time spent with physicians has taken a toll.

A team of speech specialists are now working with her to assure her linguistic skills develop normally, Rubio said.

“It is normal that a child says ‘mama’ at the beginning, or ‘papa,’ but the girl instead of saying ‘mama’ was saying ‘doctor.’ Her first word was ‘doctor,”’ Rubio told The Associated Press.

But Milagros’ mother did not appear concerned.

“She does everything. She is a normal girl in her activities,” said Sara Arauco, 21, who gave birth to Milagros in a hospital in Peru’s Andes mountains. “The only thing is the small problem with her legs, and that’s nothing because everything else is normal. She knows more than 50 words.”

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