The world had its first glimpse of 13-month-old Milagros Cerron last Thursday since she had surgery to separate her fused legs. This is only the second such successful operation on record performed to correct "mermaid syndrome."
Little Milagros was clutching a pink and green plastic toy dog, and was bright-eyed, alert and tranquil while Dr. Luis Rubio flexed her toes and spoke to her softly.
Rubio has been forced to defend the unprecedented media coverage of Milagros' case after criticism from the regional dean of Peru's medical board who says that graphically televising her surgery live on Peru's Tuesday night news broadcasts violated medical ethics.
Rubio held up the girl's legs in a V-shape for the cameras at the completion of the 4 1/2 hour operation displaying the line of stitches extending from her heels up to her inner thighs, and declared the surgery "a true success."
Rubio, in defence, said the baby's case was exceptional and the world "has a right to be informed".
Rubio explains that like many poor people in Peru's Andes, Milagros' parents are young, humble and devoutly religious people who at first saw her deformity as a punishment from God and had to be convinced that a medical solution existed. He says other babies born with congenital defects are often abandoned to die.
He says many Peruvians who live in the Andes do not have medical information and do not understand that it is possible to resolve such a problem.
Rubio regards the media coverage as a form of education and a means of spreading information and encouraging progress.
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 says that 28 hours after the operation, her condition is satisfactory with full blood flow in each of her legs reaching the tips of her toes, with good pressure, and constant temperature. He adds that her stitches will be removed in 10 days.
Rubio says he and his medical team are optimistic that Milagros will be able to walk within two years. He does caution however that she will need years of corrective surgery to repair her sexual, digestive and other internal organs.
Little Milagros has, among other problems, 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.
Tiffany Yorks, a 16-year-old American girl with the same condition, is apparently 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.
It is rumoured that there is a third person living somewhere in Asia with the deformity, also known as "sirenomelia," but details about the person's identity and circumstances are sketchy.
Sara Arauco, 20, Milagros' mother, says her "heart is filled with joy" after her daughter's successful operation, and she feels good, seeing her baby smiling,and playing quietly. Sara says she prayed to God that everything would turn out all right and that his blessing was passed to the hands of the doctors.