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UCLA Magazine Fall 2002
The Little Marias
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Fall 2002
The Little Marias
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"I have an intense emotional bond with Guatemala," says Lazareff, who went on medical missions to the Central American country in 1991 and 1992 while he was a physician in Mexico City. "I immediately said yes."

Soon afterward, Lazareff was translating the girls' medical records from Spanish to English. He brought the girls' situation to the attention of the administration of UCLA Medical Center and the hospital agreed to take on the case. It would be the first attempt ever at UCLA to separate conjoined twins.

"Finding Dr. Lazareff was an absolute miracle," says Chris Embleton, co-founder of Healing the Children and director of its California chapter. "I have no doubt that these girls ended up exactly where they were supposed to be."

When the people of Guatemala, who had been praying at Catholic Masses held for the girls, heard that Las Mariítas were going to UCLA, "hope began," says Lesly Véliz, a reporter for the Guatemalan newspaper Siglo Veintiuno, who flew to Los Angeles to cover the surgery. "In Guatemala, we hear a lot about UCLA, but we didn't necessarily know that there was a hospital associated with the university. We were happy because Las Mariítas are very special for us."

In all, hundreds of health-care workers from the UCLA Medical Center - surgeons, pediatricians, nurses, radiologists, anesthesiologists, interns, residents, technicians and social workers — will be involved with the girls' care. It will, in essence, be the largest single medical team assembled in UCLA's history. The team formed "as soon as the first pediatric intern or resident put on a stethoscope and made a physical examination of the girls," Lazareff says. "And it will last until a pediatric intern or resident signs the discharge summary."

While many of UCLA's health-care professionals will donate their expertise and services, additional medical expenses are expected to cost the hospital more than $1.5 million.

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