LIMA, Peru – Smiling, blowing kisses and taking small assisted steps, Peru's "miracle baby" celebrated her second birthday on Thursday, nearly a year after doctors successfully performed risky surgery to separate her fused legs.
Milagros Cerron, whose name means "miracles" in Spanish, was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome."
The condition is almost always fatal, but Milagros has not only survived but also grown into an alert, vivacious little girl who can pull herself from a seated to a standing position.
"We have managed to develop the muscles in the inferior extremities," said Dr. Luis Rubio, head of a team of surgeons who operated on her in June. "The girl can now stand by herself and has started taking her first steps."
He predicted she would be able to walk on her own by the end of the year.
To demonstrate her progress, Rubio held the child's hands as she took small, shuffling strides during the party in the public hospital where her surgery took place.
He said that on May 25, Milagros will undergo another operation to separate a remaining 5 centimeters (2 inches) of fused tissue just below the child's groin.
"That will permit the child to perfectly take a long step," he said.
She will need 10 more years of reconstructive surgeries and rehabilitation, he said.
Milagros' hips are narrow and small and she 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.
Dressed in a hot-pink shirt and blue jeans, Milagros enthusiastically blew out candles on a birthday cake shaped like the Walt Disney character "Little Mermaid," the nickname she is known by in Peru.
Born with her legs fused to the ankles and her feet splayed, she resembled one of the mythical sea creatures before her operation.
Rubio said Tiffany Yorks, a 17-year-old American girl, was the only other person known to have undergone a successful surgery to correct the rare congenital defect, which is almost always fatal within days of birth.
Milagros is small for her age, about the size of a 1-year-old, and all of her time spent with physicians has taken a toll.
A team of speech specialists are now working with her to assure her linguistic skills develop normally, Rubio said.
"It is normal that a child says 'mama' at the beginning, or 'papa,' but the girl instead of saying 'mama' was saying 'doctor.' Her first word was 'doctor,"' Rubio told The Associated Press.
But Milagros' mother did not appear concerned with the detail.
"She does everything. She is a normal girl in her activities," said Sara Arauco, 21, who gave birth to Milagros in a hospital in Peru's Andes mountains. "The only thing is the small problem with her legs, and that's nothing because everything else is normal. She knows more than 50 words."