The Peruvian Mermaid
Sirenomelia - Mermaid Syndrome
Born with a rare condition in which both legs are fused together, Milagros Cerrón caught the hearts of Peru when her ambitious plastic surgeon, Dr. Luis Rubio, agreed to have the operation to separate her legs televised.
On the 27th April 2004, Sara and Ricardo Cerrón are at the local hospital, in Huancayo in the Central Andes of Peru, where Sara gives birth to a daughter. The staff are concerned as the child has a birth defect and local beliefs consider such defects to be a curse. She has a rare condition called sirenomelia where both legs are fused together. Babies born with this condition also lack any external genitalia, so her gender was not identified until three weeks later when chromosomal testing could be done.
Most sirenomelia sufferers have severe organ damage and a very limited life expectancy. Milagros is no exception, doctors discover she has only one kidney which is likely to fail at any moment. The hospital in Huancayo does not have the dialysis equipment needed to save little Milagros and she may not survive long enough to be referred to the children's hospital in Lima.
The media hear of the story and Sara and Ricardo's plight makes the television news. Fortunately Dr. Luis Rubio was one of the viewers that night and realises that this is a unique case. Dr. Rubio is a plastic surgeon who is well-known in Peru for his frequent television appearances and interest in rare medical cases.
Rubio is director of a small chain of hospitals called Solidaridad (Solidarity) in the shanty towns of Lima. His hospitals offer an alternative to Peru's crumbling National Health system. Treating the mermaid case will be an ideal way of demonstrating what his hospitals can do.
Dr. Rubio despatches a medical team and a camera crew to Huancayo to collect the little mermaid, as she has become known. Back in Lima they manage to stabilise the kidney condition and X-Rays show that the leg bones are not conjoined so it should be possible to separate her legs and make medical history.
Milly has other problems, besides her legs. Her genitals and urinary tract are positioned in her anus so she will need reconstructive surgery in the years to come.
Dr. Luis Rubio
In a preliminary operation, Dr. Rolando Pinto who will perform the surgery, places tissue expanders under the skin between Milly's legs. This is required to stretch the skin so that there will be sufficient skin to close the wounds after the separation. Unfortunately, the procedure did not go well, the incisions have become infected and Milagros has had to be placed in an isolation unit. These complications will delay the surgery by several weeks.
Dr, Rubio had been asked by Ricardo to be the baby's godfather, but in some political wrangling Dr. Rubio asks the mayor of Lima if he would like to be the godfather. In a pre-election year this is blatant media manipulation, but the people of Peru seem to love it. In the media glare of the television cameras the little mermaid is baptised Milagros Jimena Cerrón Arauco.
Milagros is now one year old, her infection has cleared up and the surgery is re-scheduled. Sara and Ricardo are feeling left out, the press are being kept better informed about the operation than they are.
After six hours of surgery, Drs. Pinto and Rubio successfully separate the legs which is nothing short of a miracle. This is appropriate as Milagros means miracle in Spanish.