The Little Marias
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ANYONE INVOLVED IN THE CASE, and they will say that fate led
the girls to UCLA.
girls with their mother, Alba Leticia Álvarez.
twins' parents, Alba Leticia Álvarez, 23, and Wenceslao Quiej
López, 21, a banana packer, live in Belén, a remote
hamlet of 300 families some 125 miles southwest of Guatemala City.
The town has no potable water or sewage disposal, and no hospital.
Like in many parts of rural Guatemala, women do not receive prenatal
care. "A midwife will say: 'When your time comes, you'll feel
the pain, come get me,' " says John L. Ulmen, honorary consul
for Guatemala. So was the case for Álvarez.
After eight days of labor, the midwife finally advised Álvarez
to go to a clinic in the next town, Mazatenango, some seven miles
away. Doctors there performed an emergency cesarean section and
delivered the girls on July 25, 2001. Álvarez was heavily
sedated and the next few days, she says, remain fuzzy in her memory.
She can't even say how her babies were named. But, Álvarez
adds, the first time she saw them, she feared that they would die.
their birth, the girls were transferred from the rural clinic to
the more technologically advanced Social Security hospital in Guatemala
City, where they remained for nearly a year. During that time, the
babies were baptized, cut their first teeth and were doted on by
the medical staff, while the Fundación Pediátrica
Guatemalteca (Pediatric Foundation of Guatemala) interceded on their
behalf to find them the surgical care they needed. The foundation
called on Healing the Children, a charity based in Spokane, Wash.,
that helps find medical care for children from developing countries.
coincidence around this time, Jorge Lazareff, UCLA's director of
pediatric neurosurgery, wrote a letter to Healing the Children.
Having gone to Romania twice on pro-bono medical missions to aid
orphans, he wanted to offer the charity his contacts. But what Healing
the Children needed was a neurosurgeon stat for a trip to Guatemala,
and it turned to the Argentine-born doctor.