Doctors in southern India completed a grueling 24-hour operation Wednesday on a girl born with four arms and four legs that surgeons said will give the 2-year-old a chance at a normal life.
The surgery went "wonderfully well," said Dr. Sharan Patil, who led a team of more than 30 surgeons in performing the marathon procedure to remove Lakshmi's extra limbs, salvage her organs and rebuild her pelvis area.
"This girl can now lead as good a life as anyone else," Patil said from a hospital in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Lakshmi, who has been revered by some in her village as the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess, was born joined at the pelvis to a "parasitic twin" that stopped developing in her mother's womb. The surviving fetus absorbed the limbs, kidneys and other body parts of the undeveloped fetus.
"This is a very rare occurrence," said Dr. Doug Miniati a pediatric surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the surgery. Miniati said the surgery was extremely complicated but her chances of survival were greater because she was not joined 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, said Patil.
Then began the difficult job of reconstructing Lakshmi'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, Patil said.
"Beyond our expectations, the reconstruction worked wonderfully well," Patil said. "We were able to bring the pelvic bones together successfully, which takes away the need for another procedure," he said.
However, she will have to have further treatments and possible surgery for clubbed feet before she would be able to walk, he said.
Lakshmi's parents, who were expected to see their daughter 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 the remote village in the northern state of Bihar that Lakshmi hails from, are often viewed as reincarnated gods. The young girl is no different -- she is named after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth.
Others sought to make money from Lakshmi. Her parents kept her in hiding after a circus apparently tried to buy the girl, they said.
Her mother, who is currently pregnant with a healthy fetus, was "overwhelmed," Patil said.
Doctors at Sparsh Hospital in Bangalore said they were performing the surgery, which they estimated cost $625,000, for free because the girl's family could not afford the medical bills.
"We are very grateful to all the doctors for seeing our plight and deciding to help us," Shambhu said.
Doctors at the hospital have said that Lakshmi was popular among staff and patients.
"She's a very cute girl," hospital spokeswoman Dr. Patil Mamatha said. "She's very playful and gets along well with others."