LOS ANGELES -- In a risky procedure spanning about 20 hours, surgeons separated 1-year-old Guatemalan twins joined at the head, a doctor said Tuesday.
Dr. Houman Hemmati, who assisted in the surgery, said the separation of twins Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus Quiej-Alvarez appeared to be successful.
"Everyone had goosebumps at the end of the procedure," Hemmati told NBC's "Today" show. "People were cheering, people were clapping, people were crying."
"It was more than optimistic, it was overjoyed and we can't wait until we see these kids playing, laughing, crying like normal baby children," he said.
Dan Page, a hospital spokesman, said the girls had been separated but had no details, saying doctors were still in surgery.
Hemmati said one girl lost a lot of blood during the operation but was given transfusions and "everything looks great." "There was absolutely no major trouble that was unforeseen in this procedure," he said.
The surgery began Monday afternoon, about six hours after the girls were wheeled into the operating room at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The girls, born in rural Guatemala, were attached at the top of the skull and faced opposite directions. While the two shared bone and blood vessels, their brains were not meshed. Cases like theirs occur in fewer than one in 1 million live births.
"Our goal is to get two twins walking out of here -- maybe not walking, but crawling," Dr. Henry Kawamoto Jr., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at UCLA, said earlier.
The riskiest part of the surgery was expected to be separating the veins that connect the girls' heads.
Hemmati said doctors separated the skulls, then separated the individual blood vessels and decided which went to each child. Doctors then separated the brains and "at 1 a.m. (PDT) pushed the two babies apart and ... so far they are doing fine."
Hemmati the mood was tense at the beginning of the operation, but doctors grew extremely optimistic.
"No one was sure what we were going to find once we actually went in and opened up the brain," he told KABC-TV in Los Angeles. "Fortunately, everything was as we expected. The two brains weren't joining one another. In fact, they were separate, and made it a lot easier for us to actually separate the two twins."
Physicians have performed cranial separations only five times in the past decade. Not all twins have survived.
Healing the Children, a nonprofit group, arranged to bring the sisters from Guatemala to Los Angeles for the $1.5 million operation.
The girls' parents, Wenceslao Quiej Lopez and Alba Leticia Alvarez, gave them kisses before the operation began, said UCLA spokeswoman Roxanne Moster.
"The girls were smiling a lot and were very playful," she said.
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