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Afghan Teenager Returns Home After  Life-Saving Surgery in US - 2003-10-03

New Yorkers bid farewell Thursday to an Afghan teenager who has recovered from life-saving heart surgery that she underwent in New York last month. A Long Island hospital performed the operation for free, as a gesture of gratitude to the girl's father, an Afghan soldier who helped U.S. military troops in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Nargis is about 16-years-old. She first came to New York in July, frail and close to death because of a blocked heart valve, severe stomach problems and a bleeding condition. Thursday, Nargis, whose last name was withheld to protect her family, was all smiles as she prepared to fly back to Afghanistan.

Nargis's cousin, who calls herself Princess, lives in New York. She translated the girl's feelings before leaving. "I'm better now and I'm thankful from everybody," she said.

Nargis's father volunteered to help U.S. Special Forces when they landed in Afghanistan in 2001. "He was in the Afghan military and guided our troops through the passes and through the mountains in their efforts to defeat the Taliban regime and drive al-Qaeda from its operations," explained New York Governor George Pataki. "When he was asked by one of our American military soldiers what we could do for him, the only thing he thought about was Nargis, his daughter."

That American soldier, Army Colonel William Roy, got to know Nargis's father and wanted to return the favor he had shown him by assisting his task force. So the Colonel called Father Brian Jordan, a Catholic priest who for many years has helped transport ailing children from other countries to New York so they can receive medical care.

Nargis's surgery was performed three weeks ago at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital. A local construction company paid the costs of her flight. Two charitable organizations donated money to pay the medical costs.

Father Jordan, who was raised in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn, reflected on the diversity of the arrangement. "In the last couple of years, we've heard the term faith-based initiative," he said. "Folks in New York, we have interfaith-based initiative. How could a Protestant U.S. colonel in Afghanistan contact a Roman Catholic priest in New York City to bring an Afghan Muslim girl to a Jewish hospital in New York?"

Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Vincent Parnell said her condition was serious. "Nargis required the services of our nutritionist, our infectious diseases department for antibiotics for her heart as well as for gastrointestinal problems that she had," he explained. "She required the services and expert consultation of our hematology department because she had a bleeding problem that heretofore had not been carefully looked at."

After Nargis condition stabilized and she gained 20 pounds, doctors operated to remove the blockage in her heart.

As well-wishers loaded Nargis's arms with teddy bears and candy, her cousin said they plan to visit the Empire State Building before leaving. Nargis will fly back to Afghanistan this weekend, along with her grandfather, who accompanied her to New York.