Maria de Jesús and Maria Teresa Álvarez, Guatemalan twins who were conjoined at their heads until they were separated in 2002 at UCLA, returned in December 2015 to visit with pediatric patients at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and the medical staff who had cared for them for many months. The girls, who were nicknamed the "two Marias" by hospital staff, now are 14 and live near each other with adoptive families in Southern California.
The twins - Maria de Jesús is now called Josie and her sister Teresita - and a team of volunteers decorated the rooms of several pediatric patients and reunited with the doctors and nurses who cared for them 13 years ago. A tearful reunion took place when a member of the hospital's housekeeping staff, Yancy Tate, who visited the twins daily during their long hospital stay, met them again, along with Jenny Hull, Josie's adoptive mother.
Teresita and Josie were born in Guatemala in 2001. With the help of Mending Kids International, they were brought to UCLA and, after months of preparation for the complex procedure, underwent a landmark 23-hour surgery on August 6, 2002. The dramatic story of the "two Marias" captured the world's attention.
The surgical team, which included more than 40 members, was led by Jorge Lazareff, MD, who was director of pediatric neurosurgery, and Henry Kawamoto Jr., MD, who was surgical director of the UCLA Craniofacial Clinic. Drs. Lazareff and Kawamoto and anesthesiologist Barbara Van de Wiele, MD (RES '88, FEL '88), were among the team leaders who welcomed them back.
"The outcome of the twins is a testament to the whole UCLA medical community - nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, volunteers and more - coming together to help these girls," Dr. Lazareff said. He also noted the support of benefactors from the Los Angeles Guatemalan community who sent $10 and $20 bills to help cover the girls' expenses.
Following their successful operation and months of recovery, the girls returned to their parents' home in Guatemala. Within four months of their return, however, both girls fell ill, with Teresita contracting meningitis. It became apparent to their healthcare providers that neither they nor the girls' family had the resources to properly manage their fragile medical conditions.
They returned to the United States for treatment, and today they live in Southern California, where they see each other several times a week and Skype regularly with their parents in Guatemala. Josie is mainstreamed in school and is very social. Her favorite activities are swimming and singing, and she has learned to walk using quad canes. Teresita has had to overcome more medical and developmental obstacles than her sister, but she enjoys going to school, where she participates in art, music and computers. She also likes to swim and go horseback riding.
"It is always wonderful for me to see the girls," Dr. Van De Wiele said. "I was so impressed that it was Josie's idea to do something for the children who are in the hospital at this time of year. Giving comes full circle."