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Twin is released from L.A. hospital

Guatemalan girl’s sister is recovering from recent surgery

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LOS ANGELES — University of California, Los Angeles doctors discharged on Saturday one of the Guatemalan twins born joined at the head and separated last August in a 23-hour operation at the hospital.

Both girls continue to improve after being readmitted to the hospital last month, doctors said.

Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez smiled shyly for reporters and television cameras in a courtyard of UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital as medical personnel prepared to take her to a private home in the area.

Her sister, Maria Teresa Quiej Alvarez, is still hospitalized, recovering from recent surgery to implant a fluid-draining shunt in her head.

The girls, 23 months old, returned to their home in Belen, Guatemala, in January but were flown back to Los Angeles on May 22 after both experienced medical problems.

On Saturday, Maria de Jesus was placed in the home of an unidentified volunteer for Healing the Children, the nonprofit organization that arranged to bring the girls to the United States for separation surgery.

"She's coming along great," said Clarice Marsh, pediatric nurse manager at the hospital. "She's almost able to sit up by herself. She laughs all the time." Marsh said Maria de Jesus will make frequent trips to visit her sister, who may remain hospitalized for several weeks.

The girls' parents are in Guatemala.

Maria Teresa has been moved out of the intensive care unit.

Maria de Jesus did not need surgery, but doctors felt she needed observation after suffering a convulsion in May. Dr. Jorge Lazareff, chief of the twins' UCLA medical team, later said the episode appeared to be isolated.

With both girls, "just about every day you see a little improvement in neurological milestones," such as hand coordination in grasping toys, Marsh said.

Cris Embleton, co-founder of Healing the Children, said the twins' ordeal may help thousands of Guatemalan children.

"These little girls have opened up the possibility of having a children's hospital in Guatemala," she said. "These girls have their miracle, but there are an awful lot of children in Guatemala that don't."

Publicity has focused attention on the need for the pediatric hospital in Guatemala, where the twins' parents have to travel five hours by bus to get medical care for their daughters, Embleton said.

"We have doctors all over the world who have offered advice and expertise" to get such a facility running, and hospitals and medical suppliers in the United States are being lined up to donate equipment, she said.