In 2002, 1-year-old twins Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa Quiej-Alvarez were joined at the tops of their heads. Known as “the two Marias,” the Guatemalan sisters underwent a 23-hour surgery to get separated, which ushered in a swirl of international media attention. This past Saturday, the sisters celebrated their tenth birthday in Malibu.
At the Hawaiian-themed party complete with steel drums and a bounce house, one of the twins, nicknamed Josie, was all smiles as she treaded water. The Aug. 6, 2002 surgery that separated her from her sister, known as Teresa, required support from Mending Kids International, and a chapter of Healing the Children.
It hasn’t been an easy road for both Marias, who have spent the last eight years in and out of the hospital. Almost a year after their separation surgery (which cost $1.5 million) in UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, the girls were brought back on a donated private jet from Guatemala for emergency treatment. According to People, Teresa had contracted meningitis; today she is unable to walk and though she cannot speak, she expresses herself through humming and laughing. Josie, who suffered from grand mal seizures, fared better but uses a walker now.
The girls’ parents, Wenseslao and Lety Alvarez, requested that the girls live in the United States. Though the sisters live with different guardians and are about 50 miles apart, they see each other about four times a week. They also speak to their parents every Sunday and see them a few times a year.
Jenny Hull, an executive board member of Mending Kids International and host mother to Josie, said the twins love being together. “They totally have that twin connection,” she said. “Josie always talks to Teresita and she'll hum back. She'll tell her something funny and Teresita will laugh.” On weekends, the girls play and dress up dolls together. “I blow in her face and it makes her smile and I tickle her a lot,” Josie said of her sister.
The Guatemalan twins still have another surgery to undergo in the next year, People reports. They are scheduled to have protective plates inserted in their skulls. Jorge Lazareff, a UCLA physician and lead neurosurgeon during the 2002 separation procedure, said the sisters were doing much better compared to last year.
“Did we want Maria Teresa [Teresa] to suffer such a setback? Of course not,” he said. “But Teresa and Josie have impacted the lives of children around the world. Seeing them today and doing this well is great.”