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UCLA Medical Center Staff Holds Press Conference

Aired June 7, 2003 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We begin in Los Angeles as we await a news conference at UCLA, the struggle to live goes on for two 23-month-old Guatemalan girls. One of the formerly conjoined twins is getting ready to leave UCLA Medical Center today, while her sister recuperates from some new surgery. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the update for us -- Thelma
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Fredricka. That news conference is expected to begin at any moment now. In fact, one of the formerly conjoined twins, 22-month-old Maria DeJesus, will make her appearance, and there she is right behind me. She has been treated here for the past two weeks after suffering a seizure back in her hometown of Guatemala. Let's listen in now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for coming this morning. I wanted to introduce you to Cris Embleton, who is cofounder of Healing the Children. And here is Maria DeJesus, and also Clarice Marsh, who is our pediatric nurse manager, and Elena Viarta (ph), who is our care partner who will answer in Spanish at the close of the English version. OK, so why don't I open it up to questions.

QUESTION: First of all, let me ask you, how are the children doing?

CLARICE MARSH, PEDIATRIC NURSE MANAGER, UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: Hi. We're very excited this morning, that DeJesus is going to be discharged this morning. I think all of us were upset when they first arrived, we were concerned, but at the same time happy to see them again, and very encouraged by the improvement. DeJesus is doing great, so we're really celebrating today.

GUTIERREZ: Talk to us a little bit about the prognosis of Maria Teresa. I know that she remains in the hospital right now.

MARSH: Teresita, we call her. She was transferred out of the ICU last week, and she's improving slowly. It's going to be a road for her. She's working really hard at healing.

GUTIERREZ: How have the children interacted with each other after the separation?

MARSH: I tell you, DeJesus loves to be with her sister. We have them together all the time. So she loves to play with her and what have you.

GUTIERREZ: Cris Embleton, can I ask you a question? You brought the children here. Will their parents be coming to take them home? What are the plans for their return to Guatemala?

CRIS EMBLETON, CO-FOUNDER, HEALING THE CHILDREN: Well, right now we're in a holding position. We don't know how long the girls will need to be here. Once we determine that, then we'll make a decision on whether the girls simply go home from here or whether we bring their parents here. It's just a matter of time.

GUTIERREZ: Can you talk to me a little bit about who will care for the girls while they're here? Especially Maria DeJesus, who will remain in Los Angeles?

EMBLETON: We have an awesome caregiver for the girls. And of course we're not going to reveal where she'll be staying, for security reasons, but believe me, she's in loving, capable hands, and every once in a while I get to play grandma. So I like that.

GUTIERREZ: How often are you in contact with the parents back in Guatemala?

EMBLETON: Well, I don't speak Spanish, so what I do every night, I call Guatemala, and talk to our contact person at the Pediatric Foundation, which is where the dad also works, and so they relay information. Plus every day I bring in my camera and send pictures home to them. You should know that we bring a lot of children here for medical care, and we rarely bring the parents, for a variety of reasons. And since the father works at the foundation, he really does understand that whole concept. There are reasons.

GUTIERREZ: Can you talk to us a little bit more about the reaction that both of the girls have when they see each other? I know that after their separation, was the first time they were actually able to look at each other eye to eye.

EMBLETON: You know, we went in the other day to take pictures of the girls together, and we do, like we said, have them together all the time, but I have to tell you, it is so moving. This one starts talking, and touching, and kissing, and doing all kinds of things, and the amazing thing is Teresa, who sometimes fusses when we touch her, never fusses at all. And really seems to know that it's her sister that's there, and this is really terrific.

Oh, you like to play. Yes, she probably does. This one's a flirt.

GUTIERREZ: How difficult will it be for the staff once the girls go home? I know that so many of the people here at UCLA have become attached to the kids.

MARSH: Yes, I think the fact that they'll be local for a short time, that the nurses that have been primary care for the girls definitely will be in touch with them. The nurses that have been caring for both of the girls, it's been an incredible experience for them. And they do have a relationship with the parents, and actually the nurses have been calling the mom daily, even letting her hear the voices of DeJesus. So the relationship there is a great relationship.

GUTIERREZ: How rare was this surgery? And how difficult was the separation now that you're able to finally look back?

MARSH: Well, I think probably you have to speak with Dr. Lazarus about, as far as the surgery goes, but I have to say that the post-op care has been very straightforward, things that we do all the time with neurosurgery patients.

GUTIERREZ: But not often do you see conjoined twins?

MARSH: No, we don't see that often, but no we don't, but postoperatively, taking care of post-op surgical, neurosurgical kids, it was pretty straightforward. Of course, this was extraordinary, because we were waiting to see the reactions of both the girls, so that they could see one other. So that's been a really exciting journey.

EMBLETON: I have to tell you, as sick as she was when we brought her in, the first thing her reaction was, well, I'm back kind of attitude, and it was really great. She's well taken care of here, and loved, as are all children on the floor. So it's great.


MARSH: From nursing staff, we -- the nursing staff have contacted the parents on their own personal phone, but like Cris says, the foundation contacts -- she calls Guatemala nightly and passes on the information to the family.


WHITFIELD: You've been watching an update out of Los Angeles, at UCLA Mattel Children's hospital there, where encouraging signs now are coming from that hospital, as you're looking at the tight shot there of Maria DeJesus. She was separated from her conjoined twin last August. Well, today the good news is Maria DeJesus will get a chance to go home, but home for now will remain in the Los Angeles area with a foster family, while her sister, Maria Teresa, will continue to get more treatment at the hospital there, and then she will likely be released and continue to be in the care of the foster family before eventually making their way back to Guatemala with their parents, who are awaiting the delivery of their two daughters.


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