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Surgery in US Saves Afghan Boy's Life


Stories of love and hope emerge amid the violence of every war. For writer Wajid Ali Syed, VOA's Jim Bertel (narrator) introduces us to a young Afghan boy who has taught some very tough soldiers the meaning of courage.

Eight-year-old Afghan Muhammad Umer is no ordinary little boy. He was born with a hole in his heart that prevented his blood from carrying enough oxygen. The condition stunted his growth and harmed his organs. His prognosis was dire until he met an American Army doctor in Afghanistan.

Gerard Martin, co-director of Children's National Medical Center's National Heart Institute in Washington, D.C., says Muhammad is lucky.

"Muhammad is a very lucky young man for meeting (Dr.) Sloane Guy and having someone really get interested in him. And I know the soldiers are very interested in trying to do something that made a difference in the community in which they were undergoing a lot of adversity."

Muhammad was moved from his remote village in northeastern Afghanistan to the main U.S. base in Afghanistan.

He became affectionately known as "Blue" around the base because his illness caused his lips, fingers and toes to turn blue. Dr. Drew Kosmowski is the chief surgeon at Bagram Air Force Base. "At eight years old he has a 75 percent mortality rate if we did nothing. As he gets older to adulthood he has a 95 percent mortality rate. With the surgery the expectations of survival are much greater than average by more than the 75 percent range that he will survive the surgery and continue to do well and live a healthy life."

The little boy says he is happy to go to America for treatment. But getting Muhammad and his father to the United States for the life-saving surgery was not easy. They were twice denied visas before Senate Majority Leader -- and heart surgeon -- Bill Frist intervened and made the trip possible.

Muhammad and his father arrived in Washington, D.C. in May. They were greeted by doctors from Children's National Medical Center. The shy, young boy from Afghanistan quickly won the hearts of his medical team as he bravely prepared for surgery.

The difficult operation was successful. Doctors repaired Muhammad's heart and removed blockages in the arteries to his lungs. His skin color has improved and he can walk more easily now. And the good news for Muhammad does not stop there.

Doctors have offered to fix another problem. Dr. Martin asked Muhammad’s father, "If I could arrange one of the eye doctors to take a look at his eye, would the father like that?" His father answered yes.

Muhammad's father is very appreciative of all the support for his son and looks forward to enrolling him in school. As for the boy, he is happy to go home and for the first time in his life worry about nothing more than being a child.