The "miracle babies" who survived in the rubble of collapsed hospitals after the Mexico City earthquake in 1985 now are 3-year-olds, thriving on special attention from doctors and relatives.
Evelia Alvarez Gasca, good-humored and playful, likes to sing and dance. Her favorite is "Speedy Gonzalez," or was, before she broke the record and pulled the cartridge out of the turntable arm.Sarita Valencia Corona, another of the 19 miracle toddlers, lives with her grandparents in a community with a view of snow-capped volcanoes. She entertains herself with the chickens, ducks and cows in the small yard or helps her grandparents tend their crops.
Jesus Manuel Figueroa or "Chuchito," possibly the biggest miracle of all, finally is walking and beginning to talk.
All the babies except Chuchito were from a few hours to a few days old when the quake struck at 7:19 a.m. Sept. 19, 1985, bringing the two hospitals where they were born crashing down.
Government figures put the death toll at about 6,000 people; unofficial sources put the toll as high as 32,000. Including the hospitals, more than 400 buildings in the city of 18 million were destroyed and 5,700 damaged, the government said.
Chuchito was 21 days old when the quake hit, in an incubator because of problems at birth. When the 12-story hospital fell, everyone except his mother gave him up for dead.
The 19 babies survived amid the rubble from eight hours to nearly nine days after the quake. Cold and almost unconscious, Chuchito was found after a week.
"Chuchito was just meant to live. No matter what happened he was going to live," said Edward Sawatzky, a Canadian who was in Mexico City when the quake hit and has been helping victims ever since.
"These babies were under very severe conditions, without food for a long period, with hypothermia, hypoglycemia," said Dr. Barbara Hernandez, who cares for 14 of them.
They had infected wounds and were dehydrated, but only one suffered lasting injuries, doctors say, a boy who suffered a deformed hip joint because of infection. The boy, Jesus Francisco, learned to walk four months ago.
Hernandez and other doctors say the other babies are normal except for one who was born without legs from the knees down and Chuchito, whose slowness in walking and talking they say are due to his birth problems.
Evelia will have to have surgery on her tear ducts and needs orthopedic shoes, her aunt said.
About half the children, including Evelia and Sarita, lost their mothers, but all are in what social workers consider to be good family situations.
In one sense the babies are lucky. They were from poor families and have had more medical attention and stimulation than they would have had otherwise. And they caught the hearts of everyone.
"The ones I worry about are the secondary victims" who aren't in the limelight, said Janet Rogozinski, head of U.S. Private and Voluntary Organizations here. The agency channels private donations from the United States to earthquake victims.