Karel Navarro / Ap  /  AP
Dr. Luis Rubio examines 13-month-old Milagros Cerron's reflexes after a complicated surgery to separate her fused legs, in a hospital in Lima, Peru, on June 2.
updated 6/2/2005 6:35:01 PM ET 2005-06-02T22:35:01

Doctors on Thursday gave the world its first peak at 13-month-old Milagros Cerron since surgery to separate her fused legs in the second such successful operation on record to correct “mermaid syndrome.”

Grasping a pink and green plastic toy dog, the bright-eyed baby was alert and tranquil while Dr. Luis Rubio flexed her toes and spoke to her softly.

Rubio on Thursday defended the unprecedented media coverage of Milagros’ case after criticism from the regional dean of Peru’s medical board that graphically televising her surgery live on Peru’s Tuesday night news broadcasts violated medical ethics.

'An exceptional case'
At the end of the 4 1/2 hour operation, Rubio held up the girl’s legs in a V-shape for the cameras, displaying the line of stitches extending up from her heels to her inner thighs, and declared the surgery “a true success.”

“This is an exceptional case. I don’t know if we are going to see another one and the world has a right to be informed,” Rubio told The Associated Press on Thursday.

He said that like many poor people in Peru’s Andes, Milagros’ parents — young, humble and devoutly religious people — at first saw her deformity as a punishment from God and had to be convinced that a medical solution existed.

Other babies born with congenital defects are often abandoned to die, Rubio said.

“Those are the beliefs in our Andean communities,” he said. “In our Andes, Peruvians who do not have medical information do not know where they can turn to resolve a problem.

“If we do not educate ourselves, inform ourselves through the normal education systems, the press and communications media, we will not advance. What we cannot do is stay with our arms crossed and we are not going to be resigned to our poverty nor our misinformation.”

Rare birth defect
Milagros — whose name means “miracles” in Spanish — was born with her legs fused together from her thighs to her ankles inside a seamless sack of skin and fat.

Rubio said Thursday, 28 hours after the operation, that her condition was satisfactory with full blood flow in each of her legs.

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“The blood is reaching the tips of her toes with good pressure, constant temperature,” he said, adding that the stitches would be removed in 10 days.

Rubio said his medical team hopes Milagros will be able to walk within two years, but cautioned that she will need years of corrective surgery to repair her sexual, digestive and other internal organs.

Among other problems, she has a deformed left kidney and a very small right one located very low in her body and her urinary tract, anus and genitals end in the same opening.

He said Tiffany Yorks, a 16-year-old American girl with the same condition, was the only other known case of surgical correction of the congenital defect, which occurs in one out of every 70,000 births and is almost always fatal within several days.

He said there is a third person living somewhere in Asia with the deformity, also known as “sirenomelia,” but that details about the person’s identity and circumstances were sketchy.

Milagros’ mother, Sara Arauco, 20, said Thursday that her “heart is filled with joy” after her daughter’s successful operation.

“I feel really good, seeing her smiling, seeing her playing quietly. She doesn’t seem to feel any pain,” she said. “I prayed to God that everything would turn out all right and that his blessing would be passed to the hands of the doctors. I have had a lot of faith.”

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