BARSTOW Michaela Garcia fought for life since the day she was born. Born conjoined to her sister, Gabriella, 13-year-old Michaela survived separation from her sister two days after their birth, Feb. 10, 1998.

After struggling for months with an infection, Michaela died Sunday.

The girls made headlines when they were born in Loma Linda joined at the hips and facing the same direction, an extremely rare position for conjoined twins. The girls shared a liver, a bladder and two legs, but were made stable after a separation surgery, each keeping one leg.

It wasn't until 2007 that Michaela experienced complications with her gastrointestinal tubes, requiring her to wear an I.V. from then on.

She began feeling ill in Dec. 2010, her mother, Karen Swarens, said. This is when doctors discovered an infection of material placed in her during her separation surgery. The material, mesh, was used to hold her sides in, acting like a stomach muscle. Once doctors discovered the infection, Michaela underwent various surgeries to try to fix the issue. But when the infection reached her blood, there was not much doctors could do.

"She fought every minute," said her mother, adding that her doctors were constantly amazed at her resilience.

"No matter how sick she was she smiled through it all," Swarens said. "Even under sedation she'd tell us she loved us and she would dance, even with her breathing tubes and I.V. in."

Michaela often went by "Kayla" but she also liked to be called "Glittery Sparkles," family said. She loved Christian music and pop music, especially Lady Gaga, which her stepfather, Brian Swarens, "didn't approve of" he said, chuckling.

"That was Kayla she was crazy and wild," her mother said.

Just before her illness began, Michaela had her first modeling photo shoot. Her mother said she loved modeling and acting.

"She wanted to be a role model for other disabled children," Karen Swarins said. "She wanted to let them know that you weren't limited by your disability."

Michaela's twin sister, Gabriella, is not in any danger of this kind of an infection because the separation surgery was less abrasive to Gabriella's body, her mother said. Though she is coping well with her sister's death, her mom said losing Michaela is especially hard for Gabriella.

"They're closer than a twin sister they shared the same body," her mother said. "She lost her best friend."

Swarens said Michaela and Gabriella always dreamed to move to Beverly Hills and write a book, adding that "she lived in the moment."

Michaela leaves behind five sisters and three brothers. Her services will be held 11 a.m. Saturday at Crossroads Assembly with Horizon Memorial Services.

As of yet the family cannot afford the services and are seeking donations to help cover funeral costs. Donations can be made at Barstow Barbers, 229 East Main Street.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or klucia@desertdispatch.com