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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Formerly Conjoined Guatemalan Twins Return to U.S. for Surgery

Aired May 27, 2003 - 19:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: An update now on those two Guatemalan formerly conjoined twins. They are back at UCLA Medical Center for more treatment.
Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa were separated last August, you'll remember. Maria Teresa is expected to undergo surgery on Thursday to replace a valve that helps drain fluid from her brain.

Jennifer Coggiola says this will be the little girl's fifth surgery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty-two- month-old Maria de Jesus and her twin sister, Maria Teresa. arrive back in L.A. in a private plane that wasn't big enough to bring their parents. An emergency trip for both girls as they suffered a recovery setback.

DR. JORGE LAZAREFF, DIRECTOR, UCLA PEDIATRICS: It was amazing until March.

COOPER: It was then that Maria Teresa was diagnosed with meningitis. On top of that, weeks later she was struggling from an operation that left her in critical condition after a valve in her skull had become infected.

LAZAREFF: Despite all those negative aspects, I mean, she still is doing much better than actually expected.

COGGIOLA: Last week, the other sister, Maria de Jesus, suffered a convulsion, something her doctor explains is actually quite common.

DR. HENRY KAWAMOTO JR., RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGEON, UCLA: What happens is that little kids, it's a known phenomenon, when they get real high fevers will have a convulsion. And that happens even in the United States. It happens to kids a lot. It's very common and it was treated and handled very well in Guatemala.

COGGIOLA: The kids are both expected to be back home in Guatemala within weeks.

LAZAREFF: I have said many times that I don't have any doubts that five years from the original date of the surgery, which is last August, that they will amaze all of us by how much they have improved and accomplished on their own will and by their own brain. COGGIOLA: Jennifer Coggiola, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: An optimistic assessment there. As we just mentioned Dr. Jorge Lazareff is the director of pediatrics at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital. He joins us live from Los Angeles to talk about how the twins are doing.

Doctor, thanks for being with us. Overall, how are the girls doing right now?

LAZAREFF: Well one of them is doing extraordinarily well. She'll be ready to go home any time. We probably will keep her until two years of age here just to finalize a series of tests on her, because they couldn't have been done in Guatemala, but we'll take the advantage of having them done here.

And Maria Teresa, she's slightly more delicate because of the e. coli meningitis that she suffered last month. We are planning on doing a surgery on her on Thursday. And hopefully in two or three weeks she also will be able to go back home.

COOPER: For a layman, how serious a surgery is this? You said it's going to happen on Thursday. It's relieving this pressure -- replacing a valve in her brain. It sounds extraordinarily serious. Can you describe it?

LAZAREFF: No. I mean, yes, I can describe it, but it's not a very serious surgery. It takes about one hour of surgical time under anesthesia. And I don't feel that her life is in danger by us having to do this procedure.

COOPER: I know you spoke...

LAZAREFF: I am optimistic.

COOPER: Well, that's good. I know you spoke to the parents today on the telephone. They weren't able to come for the surgery. How are they doing? How are they handling the separation?

LAZAREFF: They're doing reasonably well, but -- as you do understand and I understand, as well, the communications on the phone are not loaded with emotions as if we were able to actually talk to them directly.

I have instilled in them some confidence and so that's as much as I can do with them, and of course, as soon as they see both the girls back at home in Guatemala, then their worries will actually end.

COOPER: All right. Dr. Jorge Lazareff, we appreciate you joining us tonight. Thanks very much.

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