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UCLA Magazine Fall 2002
The Little Marias
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Fall 2002
The Little Marias
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ASK ANYONE INVOLVED IN THE CASE, and they will say that fate led the girls to UCLA.

The girls with their mother, Alba Leticia Álvarez.

The 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.

Following 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.

By 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.

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