Doctors in India completed a gruelling 24-hour operation Wednesday on a girl born with four arms and four legs, and surgeons said the two-year-old— revered by many as a reincarnated goddess— has a chance at a normal life.
The surgery went "wonderfully well," said Dr. Sharan Patil, who led a team of more than 30 surgeons at a hospital in the southern city of Bangalore that performed the marathon procedure to remove the child's extra limbs, salvage her organs and rebuild her pelvis area.
Doctors say the operation will give Lakshmi, a girl from rural northern India, a chance to start life again after two years in which her parents hid her from deeply superstitious villagers— who alternately revered her as a Hindu deity and tried to buy her for a circus.
"This girl can now lead as good a life as anyone else," Patil said fromthe hospital.
But he cautioned that Lakshmi was still not out of danger.
"We are still not ready to celebrate as she will be in the critical zone for the next 48 to 72 hours," the doctor said.
Lakshmi was born joined at the pelvis to a "parasitic twin" that stopped developing in the mother's womb. The surviving fetus absorbed the limbs, kidneys and some other body parts of the undeveloped fetus.
"This is a very rare occurrence," said pediatric surgeon Dr. Doug Miniati at the University of California, San Francisco.
Miniati, who was not involved in the surgery, said it was extremely complicated but her chances of survival were greater because she had not been joined with the other fetus at the heart or brain.
The doctors worked through the night to remove the extra limbs and organs.
By midnight, a team of neurologists had separated the fused spines while orthopedic surgeons removed most of the "parasite," carefully identifying which organs and internal structures belonged to the girl, Patil said.
Then began the difficult job of reconstructing the girl's lower body.
The operation included transplanting a good kidney into Lakshmi from the twin. The team also used tissue from the twin to help rebuild the pelvic area, one of the most complicated parts of the surgery, said Patil.
"We were able to bring the pelvic bones together successfully, which takes away the need for another procedure," Patil said.
However, Lakshmi will need more treatment and possible surgery for clubbed feet before she will be able to walk, he added.
'A goddess at our village'
Lakshmi's parents, who were expected to see the girl later Wednesday, said they were very relieved.
"It will be great to see our daughter have a normal body," her father Shambhu, who only goes by one name, told reporters. "We were worried for her future."
Children born with deformities in deeply traditional rural parts of India, like Lakshmi's remote village in the northern state of Bihar, are often viewed as reincarnated gods.
The young girl is no different— she is named after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth.
"Everybody considers her a goddess at our village," said her father.
However, some wanted to make money from Lakshmi. Her parents said they kept her in hiding after a circus apparently tried to buy her.
Doctors at Sparsh Hospital in Bangalore estimated the surgery cost $625,000 US, butthey did it for free because the girl's family could not afford it.
"We are very grateful to all the doctors for seeing our plight and deciding to help us," Shambhu said.