NEW DELHI, India, Nov. 7, 2007 -- In the desperately poor corner of Bihar, India, she was a miracle.
Tiny Lakshmi Tatma was born two years ago with four arms and four legs. The local population considered her the manifestation of a goddess. Her parents named her after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth.
A local circus even tried to buy her, but her parents chose health over fame and asked a team of doctors to remove her extra limbs. The surgery, conducted in Bangalore, ended successfully this afternoon.
"The child has withstood the procedure in an excellent manner," Dr. Sharan Patil, the team leader who planned the surgery for more than a month, told reporters outside the Sparsh Hospital. "This girl can now lead as good a life as anyone else."
It took more than 30 surgeons 27 hours to not only remove two of Lakshmi's arms and two of her legs but also to rebuild much of her body and save her organs. They say the chances of death were as high as 25 percent.
The cost of such a complex procedure would have been $625,000, far too great for the Lakshmi's family to afford. The hospital's foundation paid.
"We are very grateful to all the doctors for seeing our plight and deciding to help us," Tatma's father, Shambhu, told The Associated Press.
The doctors "worked relentlessly through the night to make the operation successful," Patil said, adding there had been "no setback at any stage of the surgery."
Half a Twin
Lakshmi is essentially one half of a conjoined twin without a living sibling. Her condition is called ischiopagus. In the womb, a "parasitic twin" stopped developing, but Lakshmi absorbed its arms and legs, its kidneys, its stomach and chest cavities as well as a series of nerves.
The surgery removed the extra body parts and unfused Lakshmi's spine from her twin's. To rebuild her pelvis, surgeons used tissue from the twin. And to save her kidney, doctors said, they had to remove it from the "parasitic abdomen" and move it into Lakshmi's own abdomen. She may still need more surgeries.
Conjoined twins occur in about one in every 200,000 births, and their survival rate can be as low as 5 percent.
Lakshmi could not stand up or walk, but her doctors say that may now change.
"There's no reason why we cannot rehabilitate her, get her back on her feet as soon as possible," Patil told ABC News via phone from Bangalore.
She immediately won the hospital staff over. "She's a very cute girl," spokeswoman Dr. Patil Mamatha told the AP. "She's very playful and gets along well with others."
Lakshmi will stay in the hospital under a ventilator for at least the next two days.
As for how she will be treated after that, she may no longer be considered divine.
"All this expenditure," her father told the AP, "has happened to make her normal."
Now, he said, "it will be great to see our daughter have a normal body."
And he hopes Lakshmi will soon have a healthy sibling. Her mother is pregnant.