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UCLA Magazine Fall 2002
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Fall 2002
The Little Marias
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IT TOOK THE COMMITMENT AND HEART OF A CARING UNIVERSITY AND ITS PEOPLE TO HELP TWO BABY GIRLS FROM GUATEMALA

By Marina Dundjerski '94
Photography by Mario de Lopez and Scott Quintard

Resident Peter Morrison with twins Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesús.

LIKE MOST 1-YEAR-OLDS, TWINS MARIA TERESA AND MARIA DE JESÚS enjoy playing with toys, love the taste of chocolate frosting dabbed on their tongues and can say a few words like mama, papa and agua. To capture attention, Maria Teresa, the more outgoing of the two, will belt out a stream of Ay yay yay ya yay! Or she will blow kisses. Maria de Jesús, much shyer than her sister, quietly gazes up at her mother.

But Las Mariítas — the little Marias, as they've been affectionately dubbed in their native Guatemala — are not like most twins: They are conjoined, their heads fused to each other at a 120-degree angle.

When they roll, they roll together, one flipping the other. When they play, it is often with their feet, pushing or pulling, with amazing dexterity, the knobs of a Fisher-Price toy attached to the rails of their hospital crib.

Their union is a condition to which they've somewhat adjusted. Even as Maria de Jesús sleeps, thumb in mouth, her legs are pushing to accommodate her larger twin, Maria Teresa, who is awake and scrambling about.

But it is also a condition that could, if they are not watched constantly, hurt or kill one of them. One moment Maria Teresa tries to stand, pulling her sister up with her. But she quickly falls and Maria de Jesús lands facedown on the bed. Round-the-clock care is essential as they await the surgery at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital on August 5, an operation that their parents and doctors — and virtually the entire population of Guatemala — hope will help them to live independent, normal lives.

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