Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lakshmi - A Year Later

How is the little girl who was born with eight limbs doing a year after surgery to remove the extra arms and legs? Little Lakshmi touched everyone with her story and her megawatt smile. Here's how she is doing now: From The Sunday Times November 9, 2008 One year on: Lakshmi Tatma An Indian girl born with eight limbs beats all the odds to live a normal life Dean Nelson ”It’s a miracle!” says Poonam Tatma, beaming proudly at her daughter Lakshmi. Her little girl laughs and runs around in the grounds of the school for the disabled in Jodhpur where she lives with her family. She seems like any normal toddler — but only a year ago Lakshmi’s parents faced the likelihood that their daughter would never live a normal life. Born with eight limbs, she was the result of a rare condition in which a foetus is joined at the pelvis to a “parasitic” twin who has stopped developing in the mother’s womb. In Lakshmi’s case, she was born having absorbed the limbs and other body parts of her undeveloped sibling. Poonam and her husband, Shambhu, were raising their son, Mitilesh, on Shambhu’s labouring wage of 25 rupees (27p) per day, and living in a mud hut in the rural Indian village of Bihar. Their world had no electricity, running water or cars, and was steeped in ignorance and superstition. “At the time of the birth I was unconscious,” says Poonam, “but when I woke up my mother said to me, ‘You’ve given birth to the goddess Lakshmi.’ ” Not only had the girl been born on the day of Diwali, when Indians pray to Lakshmi for wealth, but, like the goddess herself, she had four extra limbs. “It was a shock,” says Poonam. “But people said, ‘Don’t worry, Goddess Lakshmi has come into your home.’ ” As the news spread, people flocked in their thousands to see this reincarnated goddess, transforming the family’s mud hut into a makeshift temple. But Poonam’s priority was her child’s health. Shambhu borrowed 7,000 rupees (£87) — almost a year’s wages — and they travelled to Delhi to see a specialist. He told them the operation would be too expensive for them to even dream about. Back home, worshippers continued to gather, leaving offerings outside their hut. “So many people came, I was scared,” says Poonam. “But I thought, ‘Maybe someone will hear, and my daughter will get help.’ ” Lakshmi’s story eventually reached a British tabloid agency specialising in pictures of India’s many unfortunate medical curiosities. In the wake of this, Channel 4 signed Poonam and Shambhu to a contract, and a TV documentary team flew in with a surgeon, who had agreed to carry out the operation free. But the villagers became angry. “They came to me waving their fingers and shouting, ‘Lakshmi is a god! If you allow them to operate on her, the whole village will be cursed.’ But I needed a good life for my daughter.” With the help of Dr Bhairoon Singh Bhati, the family went to Bangalore, where surgeons worked for 27 hours to separate Lakshmi’s spine from the conjoined twin’s, to remove four limbs and a parasitic trunk, and move a kidney from the twin to Lakshmi’s body. While her daughter was being operated on, Poonam became paralysed, unable to speak or move. In December last year, when Lakshmi was discharged, the family moved into Dr Bhati’s school for the disabled, SKSN, near Jodhpur, where they now live. They enjoy a new sense of security: the school will provide free education for Lakshmi, her brother and their new little sister, Saraswati, and the accommodation that goes with Shambhu’s job as a kitchen hand and gardener. In June, Lakshmi took her first steps. “I never believed it was possible,” says Poonam. “Before the operation, she could not stand or walk. Now she can play and she is starting to write.” But despite this year of miracles, there are battles ahead. “Lakshmi still has only one functioning kidney, and she needs surgery to construct a bowel so she can go to the toilet normally,” says Poonam. She will also need further operations on her legs, spine, and reproductive organs. But the family’s immediate concern is: how will it all be paid for? A fund set up by her school has little money left. Poonam is torn between gratitude and anxiety. But she remains optimistic. “We have seen cars, computers, fridges, schools for the first time. This would not have happened if Lakshmi had not been born,” she says. “She is both a goddess and a normal little girl to me. My hope for our daughter is good health and a good education. The rest is up to God.” To donate to the Lakshmi After Care Fund, visit:

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