Truly Amazing Kids
Photo credit: AP/World Wide Photo
Ricardo and Sara, a young couple, fell in love, got married and planned to start a family. When Sara got pregnant, they had planned to give birth to the baby in their home. However, when Sara went into labor she was in too much pain, so they rushed to a hospital. There, after a very difficult labor, the unthinkable happened: Sara and Ricardo's baby was born with sirenomelia, also known as "mermaid syndrome." This is a strange genetic disorder where the legs of an infant are fused together like a fish's tail.
In Huancayo, there is actually a legend that explained this condition! It says that if a pregnant woman lies down close to a nearby lake, the spirit of a mermaid will enter her body and give her unborn child some of her characteristics.
After her baby was born, doctors prevented Sara from seeing her. Later, when Ricardo first saw the new child, he says he was upset. He says he asked himself, "Why has God sent me this? What sin did I commit? What have I done wrong for my baby to come out like this?"
Immediately the baby was transferred to a hospital with an intensive care unit. Her abnormalities' severity soon became clear: not only were her legs fused together, she had no external genitals. Ricardo and Sara refused to give up hope for their daughter, who they named Milagros, which means "miracles" in Spanish.
As the word of this unusual baby spread and with his two-day-old daughter barely clinging to life, Ricardo made a desperate plea on the national news for medical help. Dr. Luis Rubio from Lima was watching, and he immediately sent an ambulance and paramedics to transfer Milagros to his hospital. "I knew that a child born with this condition stood little chance of surviving without immediate intervention," Dr. Rubio says.
Sara and Ricardo moved into the hospital in Lima six hours from their home to stand by their baby. Surgeons planned an extremely risky operation to separate the baby's legs. First though, they had to perform a tricky procedure to expand her skin so that when her legs were separated there would be enough skin to wrap around each leg.
The surgery was initially planned for when Milagros was around four months old. Almost a year later Ricardo and Sara were still waiting.
Over the year, Milagros had become a symbol of hope to an entire nation. Finally, the doctors were assembled and her operation was televised live throughout Peru!
After the first hour, Dr. Rubio gave an update on the most dangerous part of the surgery: cutting a main artery that crosses from one leg to the other. "We have succeeded in clamping the main artery without any problems. We have sealed it and the blood flow is perfect in both legs.
Now it was time to separate the legs beginning at the heels. After more than six hours in surgery and a crucial 36 hours afterward, Milagros was in the clear. The surgery was a complete success!
Ricardo: For me, it has been very hard. It has been very heartbreaking. But also it has been good for me. I'm very happy. I'm thrilled.
Oprah: At first, did you think it was a curse?
Ricardo: Well, not really. I think that's what God sent us, was to fight for life.
Oprah: Were you amazed that the surgery ended up on national television, this surgery, and that the entire country was filled with hope for your baby?
Ricardo: Sí. Yes.
Dr. Rubio says he believes that Milagros could someday walk. "I dream about that," he says. "I dream for that."
Before going in to the surgery, which was broadcast around Peru, Dr. Rubio says he was extremely nervous. "I think that 10 minutes before the surgery was the toughest time in my whole life," he says. "I was very, very nervous. And 10 minutes before the surgery, [Milagros] held my hand while I was walking her through to the operating room."
Ricardo has a message for the team of doctors who saved his daughter's life. "I'm very grateful for everything you did for my daughter," he says. "And I also will want to ask you for help so in the future she can walk."
"When we first found out she doesn't feel pain it was like, 'What a relief,'" her dad, Steven, says.
However, that pain is necessary, Gabby's mom, Trish, says. "People always think of pain. 'Oh, if I could get rid of the pain.' I'm thinking, 'You do not even know how lucky you are that you can feel it."
When she was just a baby, Gabby started chewing her own hand while she was teething. "She had bit down through her skin," Trish says. "She would have bit down to the bone had I let her. It was just chewed up. It looked mangled and nasty, like raw hamburger on her hand." It got to the point where Steven and Trish decided to have Gabby's teeth pulled out to save her hands and tongue, which she chewed on "like bubblegum."
After literally poking her own eye out, Gabby now wears protective goggles to try and spare the sight in her one remaining eye. "Now the main thing is keeping her good eye healthy," Trish says. "Making sure that we don't ever get an infection or do anything to hurt the one eye she's down to."
In another instance Gabby suffered second-degree burns on her hand after grabbing a hot lightbulb. "She just grabbed a hold of the lightbulb like she was grabbing a baseball," Steven says. "On a normal person, that would be very painful."
"We've met families that have lost their kids," Trish says. "So at the same time, so what if our kid is blind? So what if she ends up in a wheelchair? We've got her. We can hold her. We can love her."
In fact broken bones and joints are the greatest dangers Gabby faces through her life. However, there is at least one upside. Steven and Trish have contacted a woman in her 30s with Gabby's condition. "She has severe back and neck problems," Trish says. "But the good news is childbirth was very easy."
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital—founded by actor Danny Thomas in 1962—has been treating children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases for over 40 years.
Among the children that Lisa met at St. Jude were Mason—the youngest patient taken in after Katrina—and Ronnie and Brianna, who were both undergoing chemotherapy at the time the storm struck.
Though Hurricane Katrina has made many of the newest patients at St. Jude homeless, Marlo says there was no question about what needed to be done. "With what happened in Louisiana, it became apparent that we were the ones to take care of these children," she told Lisa. "There was no place else that could rescue them and that could give them the critical care that they needed and also take care of them and their families."
Though these children arrived with no records of their serious conditions, the doctors at St. Jude began treatment immediately. "It was a tremendous amount of pressure," Marlo told Lisa. "But there is pressure here every day. I mean, you're dealing with a life and death situation every day."