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'LITTLE MERMAID' MARKS FIRST BIRTHDAY IN HOSPITAL

Peru's "little mermaid" -- born with legs fused together from her thighs to her ankles -- celebrated her first birthday Friday in the public hospital where doctors hope to perform risky surgery to repair her rare birth defects.

Wearing a blue dress with white stars and a princess' crown, Milagros Cerron giggled and bounced in her doctor's arms. A glittery show girl sang a techno-tinged version of "Happy Birthday," accompanied by a keyboard player and a dancing actor in a Winnie-the-Pooh costume.

Dr. Luis Rubio estimated that within two months the baby would be ready for the first of three complicated operations to separate her legs, which are seamlessly fused all the way to her heels.

Milagros was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome," which occurs in one out of every 70,000 births. There are only three known cases of children with the affliction alive in the world today.

Babies born with the deformity almost always die within seven to 10 days of birth because of serious defects to vital organs, Rubio said.

Rubio said Milagros would need 14 to 15 years of corrective surgeries to repair all of her deformities.

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