Little Lakshmi Takes First Steps

Just three months after marathon surgery successfully removed her four extra arms and legs, little Lakshmi Tatma has taken her first steps.

"She's now moving with a walker, holding onto objects — a table, a chair — and moving a little bit," said Sharan Patil, chief orthopedic surgeon and chairman of Sparsh Hospital in Bangalore where the surgery was performed.

The 2-year-old Indian girl captured international attention in November when a team of 30 surgeons separated what was essentially a headless parasitic twin joined at her pelvis. Parasitic twins differ from conjoined twins because they are not fully formed and they depend upon the body functions of the complete fetus.

"Lakshmi always knew she was different. After the operation she instinctively started behaving like a normal child. It's like she had always been waiting for the opportunity," the girl's mother, Poonam Tatma, told Britain's Channel 4 News.

"When she was put in the baby walker she started pushing herself backwards with her legs and burst into laughter with a huge grin on her face. She loves it."

The girl's swift progress comes as no surprise to Patil.

"She has very good control of her muscles and limbs — except that she has club feet — and there's no reason to think she will not walk. She's an intelligent kid, so she's definitely making progress."

During the surgery, Lakshmi's spine was cut to remove the extra limbs and the wide gap between the pelvic bones was closed using bone grafts.

Lakshmi comes from a remote village in Bihar, the poorest state in India, where her father, Shambhu, and mother had tried unsuccessfully to find medical help for her. They were told surgery was not possible.

The family struggled financially, particularly because only one parent could work while the other cared for Lakshmi who was constantly running a fever. Survival rates for conjoined twins can be as low as 5 percent. Doctors believed that Lakshmi would likely die in her teens without surgery.

In their village, which has just 150 homes and no electricity, Lakshmi's parents tried to give her in as normal a life as possible. But in the region, villagers considered her to be the reincarnation of the multilimbed goddess of wealth, Laxmi. And some people had even tried to buy Lakshmi to put her in the circus.

In late September, Patil traveled to the family's village after receiving a call from a social worker seeking help for Lakshmi's condition. Sparsh Hospital, which was created to help the middle and lower classes of India to receive quality care, donated the cost of the surgery, estimated at $625,000.

Lakshmi will return to Sparsh at the end of March for follow-up for surgery on her club feet and her spinal cord.

Patil, who said he is still "on a high" from the success of the surgery, said that she will likely be walking on her own soon.

"I don't think it will be more than a few weeks," he said.

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