LIMA, Peru – Peru's "little mermaid" — the baby born with legs fused together from her thighs to her ankles — celebrated her first birthday Friday in the public hospital where doctors hope to perform risky surgery to repair her rare birth defect.
Wearing a blue dress with white stars and a princess' crown, Milagros Cerron (search) giggled and bounced in her doctor's arms. A glittery show girl sang a techno-tinged version of "Happy Birthday," accompanied by a keyboard player and a dancing actor in a Winnie-the-Pooh costume.
Dr. Luis Rubio (search) estimated that within two months the baby would be ready for the first of three complicated operations to separate her legs, which are seamlessly fused all the way to her heels.
Milagros was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia (search), or "mermaid syndrome," which occurs in one out of every 70,000 births. There are only three known cases of children with the affliction alive in the world today.
Babies born with the deformity almost always die within seven to 10 days of birth because of serious defects to vital organs, Rubio said.
Milagros — whose name means "miracles" in Spanish — has a deformed left kidney and a very small right one located very low in her body. In addition, her digestive and urinary tracts and her genitals share a single tube.
But Milagros has not only survived, she's grown into an alert, vivacious little girl.
"Her psychomotor skills and her communication with her surrounding environment are very good. Her interaction with others is good," Rubio said. "She already speaks words perfectly well."
Her father, Ricardo Cerron, an electrical technician, was unemployed when his wife, 19-year-old Sara Arauco, gave birth to Milagros in a hospital in Peru's Andes mountains. He brought the baby on an eight-hour bus trip west to Lima to seek help last year.
"I think she is the happiest girl in the world, side-by-side with her dad and mom, nothing more," Cerron, 24, said Friday.
"I feel very content and happy because my baby is a year old, a year of life that she struggled for," Arauco added.
In the last two months, doctors have inserted silicone bags filled with saline solution to stretch Milagros' skin so it will be able to cover her legs once they are cut apart. But Rubio said "frequent, recurring urinary infections" and a low red blood count have slowed her progress ahead of surgery.
She received a blood transfusion last week, he said, and should soon be ready for the first separation from the ankles to the mid-calf.
"Then in three months we will perform the second phase, the mid-thigh," he added. "After six to nine months, hopefully we can finish with the perineum," the area between her anus and her genitalia.
Rubio said Milgros would need 14 to 15 years of corrective surgeries to reconstruct and repair her sexual, digestive and other internal organs.