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Former conjoined twins celebrate 10th birthday

August 6, 2011 | 10:01 pm

Twin girls formerly joined at the head turned 10 on Saturday, nine years after being separated in a bold 23-hour surgery that gained worldwide attention.

Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa Quiej-Alvarez celebrated their birthday at a Malibu home, according to the Associated Press. The guests included many of the members of the 50-person surgical team that separated the Guatemalan-born twins in 2002 at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA Medical Center.

Conjoined twins are extremely rare, occurring in about one in 2.5 million births, with craniophagus twins the rarest kind. If they survive birth, many do not live beyond their first birthday. Others do not survive separation surgery. The survival odds in the Quiej-Alvarez case were improved because the girls did not share a brain.

“It is a miracle,” Jenny Hull, an executive director at Mending Kids International, told the AP. Mending Kids arranged the $1.5-million surgery and also financed much of the girls' care through donations.

After months of recovery, the sisters, known as Josie and Teresita, returned to Guatemala, but several months later Teresita contracted meningitis.

They returned to the United States for ongoing treatment and now live with host families in Los Angeles County. Their parents remain in their rural village in Guatemala and visit the girls several times a year.

Maria de Jesus, called Josie, attends a public elementary school where she's entering fourth grade. She's very social and loves singing, drawing and performing with her synchronized swim team, said Hull, who is Josie’s host mother. 

Teresita's bout with meningitis left her unable to speak, but she expresses herself through humming and laughing. She enjoys art, music and computers at school and loves swimming and horseback riding.

“They love being together,” Hull said. “They totally have that twin connection. Josie always talks to Teresita and she'll hum back. She'll tell her something funny and Teresita will laugh.”

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