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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Janlean Luna Rivera, a Siamese twin from Aibonito, graduates from RUM

Janlean Luna Rivera, center, and her parents, James A. Luna Morales and Juanita Rivera Gómez, celebrate Janlean’s graduation from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.

By The Star Staff

An entire town was attentive to her birth and then to the delicate operation that would separate her from her Siamese twin. Since then, she has had in her a fighting spirit of survival and overcoming.

Now, 23 years later, Janlean Luna Rivera, from Aibonito, obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with high honors, as part of the 110th graduating class of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus (RUM by its Spanish acronym).

The young woman, who currently works as a support facilitator at CIMA Mennonite Hospital, was accepted to continue her studies toward a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Ponce Health Sciences University and Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Ponce Campus.

Neither the 10 surgeries she has had throughout her life, nor the mobility challenges of having only one leg, nor the health conditions she has had to face prevented the young woman from continuing to pursue her university education.

“I feel immense happiness for this achievement and completing this goal. It’s too fantastic!” Luna Rivera said. “I became very fond of the school. When I finished. I did not want to leave because it became my home. This graduation gives me a lot of joy and nostalgia at the same time; I suffered a lot when I was picking up to leave my lodging in Mayagüez. I lived very close to the university and it became my second home. I leave part of my little heart there.”

In fact, Luna Rivera’s move to Mayagüez represented the first time she would be away from home independently.

“The transition was challenging,” she said. “I didn’t know how to cook, I had never lived alone, so it was a challenge. The first few days my mom stayed with me and then, little by little, they released me. Later, I found out that the first day they left me alone, my parents stayed in the area for a while because they thought I would call them.”

She was referring to her parents, James A. Luna Morales and Juanita Rivera Gómez, who along with her older brother, James A. Luna Rivera, have always supported her in her projects.

“I thank them with all my heart because despite the difficulty, they trusted me and supported me unconditionally,” Luna Rivera said. “The first months were very difficult. I did not fit in; as I adapted, I lowered my grades. However, when I decided to come to the college, although I was afraid, I was determined.”

She said she was grateful for the support she received at the RUM to overcome her mobility challenges.

“When I arrived here I didn’t have a motorized chair and the campus is very big,” she recalled. “So the drivers were quite willing to move me around [to my] classes. Everyone was very kind and always helped me.”

“Being born like this has closed doors for me, but many have also opened because I have met incredible people,” she added.

As part of her university life, Luna Rivera joined the student groups Psychology Students Association and Impacto Juventud, in which she is still active with the Chiqui Impacto program.

She said her interest in psychology was born out of her curiosity to learn more about how the brain works and decision-making.

“I always had the desire to want to know more and now that I’m done, I am fascinated,” she said.

Born in 2000, Luna Rivera turned 23 years old last Friday. Since her case became known, the community was moved and showed its support.

Luna Rivera was born attached to her twin Janlee, as ischiopagus twins, which means that they were joined at the pelvis and shared a liver, intestines, bladder and a leg. Unfortunately, her sister passed away months after her birth.

“All my conditions are stable,” she said. “As a child I had about five operations; the first was the separation and organizing the organs so that they were functional. Then, back and bladder surgeries. There have already been approximately 10.”

Having earned her baccalaureate, along with the adventure of living alone and having a job, Luna Rivera is already on her way to start her next step: her doctoral degree in Ponce, to where she will also relocate. Unlike when she started at RUM, she now knows how to drive and has her vehicle adapted and of course, as she said, “I already hold my own in the kitchen.”

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