Amid war, soldiers see a chance to save a child [Good Read]

December 25th, 2005  

Topic: Amid war, soldiers see a chance to save a child [Good Read]

Iraq First Lt. Jeff Morgan watched with concern as Soad Jaffar al-Hasan cradled her precious baby girl, the mother's smile masking the inevitable.
Morgan, a single father of five from Georgia, knew that in a few months, possibly weeks, Noor, al-Hassan's firstborn, would succumb to a birth defect.
"If no one helps us, the baby will die," Noor's grandmother, Iman Sami Abbas, told visiting soldiers with the Georgia Army National Guard.
Noor, whose name means light in Arabic, was born with a severe form of spina bifida. Iraqi doctors lack the resources to treat her. They sent her family home, telling them the baby had 45 days at most to live. Barring a miracle, the light in their lives would go out.
Noor beat the odds and will be 3 months old Friday. Her time, though, is running out. No one is sure how long she will live in her condition.
But Noor's family might get the miracle they have dreamed of, thanks to soldiers from the 48th Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment.
Morgan has been furiously e-mailing friends and contacts in Atlanta to get help for Noor. Now, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta has stepped forward and is offering to treat the child.
Jennifer Sinclair, a Children's Healthcare spokeswoman, said one of the hospital's neurosurgeons, Dr. Roger Hudgins, had agreed to perform the surgery at no cost to the family once the child arrived in Atlanta and was evaluated.
Noor was found earlier this month during a raid seeking insurgents in an area of Abu Ghraib known as 1 March by soldiers from the 1st Battalion's Charlie Company, based in Gainesville, Ga.
They could not forget the tiny girl with wisps of black hair and big brown eyes. When they learned Noor's life could be saved back home in America, they set out to find a way to get her out of Iraq for medical care.
"I think every child deserves a chance," said Morgan, an engineering inspector. "The whole company is focused on getting her help. It means as much to the soldiers here as it does for the parents."
In U.S., she would survive
For Charlie Company, saving Noor has been a heart-warming distraction this Christmas season from the routine of daily patrols in the treacherous neighborhoods of Abu Ghraib district, just west of Baghdad.
Morgan, 40, who carries his children's photos in his wallet, said: "It's a chance to help a kid. Who knows? She could grow up to be president of Iraq one day."
Morgan said he thought of his own five when he first saw a photo of Noor taken by a soldier during the raid. He thought about how he would feel if his daughter had been born with such a debilitating deformity. He thought how lucky he was that in the United States, doctors would be able to treat his daughter and give her a chance at normalcy.
But in the trash-strewn, sewage-infested slums of impoverished Abu Ghraib, few children receive basic medical attention such as vaccinations, much less the kind of intensive care Noor needs.
Morgan took a military doctor to visit Noor, called Baby Nora by the soldiers. The doctor determined that she was born with spina bifida, an open spine. In the early stages of her mother's pregnancy, Noor's spinal cord did not fully close, leaving a gap where a cyst-like growth the size of a baseball now sits on Noor's back.
"She doesn't have a chance here. She will definitely die," said the American military doctor, who is not authorized to treat patients outside the bases and did not want to be identified.
The March of Dimes Web site says one of every 2,000 babies born in the United States has spina bifida. But it is easily treatable with proper prenatal care, or postnatal surgery.
In her mother's arms, Noor looked perfectly healthy. But she cannot feel it when someone tickles her feet. Spina bifida often results in paralysis of the legs.
Noor tried but could not follow a moving finger with her eyes. The military doctor who examined her said Noor showed signs of developmental delay. Typically in spina bifida cases, the doctor said, fluid begins to build up around the brain and eventually causes severe neurological damage.
"Often, when babies are born like this, they don't survive," the doctor said. "In the States, we would have done in-utero surgery, or we would have done surgery on the first day."
With time, damage grows
The doctor said that if Noor could get surgery fairly soon she would have a chance at a productive life. But the more time that passes, the less likely it is that Noor will be able to survive.
"I wanted to help her in any way I could," said the doctor, a mother separated from her own children. She wrote up a diagnosis that Morgan sent back to Atlanta in an effort to solicit help.
"I go out and see the kids here actually it's kind of selfish," she said. "At least I get to hold a child."
Morgan also has been writing to church groups in the Atlanta area, pleading for help. So far he has contacted the Southern Baptist Convention and two churches that he has attended.
One Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church is trying to set up a charitable fund to help Noor.
"It is a way for our congregation to get connected with Iraq," said Adam Roberts, the pastor. "This definitely gives folks a hands-on way to respond. This is just good through and through."
Visas coming, but when?
Morgan said the Marriott hotel group was willing to donate living space for the girl and an accompanying relative. Delta Air Lines has agreed to fly the child and one relative from Kuwait to Atlanta through its charitable Sky Wish program.
And Childspring International, an Atlanta nonprofit that matches sick children from other countries with doctors in the United States, is working with Children's Healthcare to arrange Noor's medical care.
"We will work as hard as we can to make it happen," said Rose Emily, executive director of Childspring. "I look forward to going to the airport and picking up this little girl."
But Morgan still has one major obstacle ahead government clearance to bring Noor to the United States.
He said he contacted Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) for help in getting Noor out of Iraq.
AnnieLaurie Walters, a spokeswoman for Chambliss, said in an e-mail that the senator's office was working on securing visas for the baby and her grandmother.
"I'm sure it's going to happen," Morgan said. "My problem is trying to make it happen fast. The doctor said the window is closing in on the time we have to prevent brain damage."
Father would 'do anything'
On a recent chilly night, Noor and her family were huddled around a kerosene heater in their living room when Charlie Company soldiers dropped by for a visit. Morgan needed additional information about the baby and wanted to look at her birth certificate.
"You promised me you would help," said Abbas, the matriarch of the family, who runs a family grocery with her three sons.
"I'm working on it," Morgan said through an interpreter, explaining all the contacts he had made in Atlanta.
"Who will go with the baby?" he asked.
"I will," Abbas said, pointing to herself. "Only one person can go?"
"Yes," Morgan said. "I will try and see if her father can go as well."
Noor lay swathed in white cloth on her aunt Zainab's lap. Silver earrings dangled from her pierced lobes. She could move her toes but did not respond to touch below her waist. Her aunt unwrapped the cloth and showed the American visitors the large pinkish growth on Noor's back.
"The pregnancy was normal," Abbas said. "This has been very sad for us. But the Americans brought us hope."
"Will she be OK?" Abbas asked Morgan.
"If she gets treatment soon, she will grow up normal," Morgan replied.
"I'll do anything for her," said Noor's father, Haider Khalif, 23.
Capt. Anthony Fournier, 38, a schoolteacher from Augusta, Ga., said Noor gave his soldiers a chance at measurable success in the middle of an often perplexing guerrilla war.
"No one can question this," Fournier said. "This is tangible."
Staff Sgt. Darryl Clark, 40, said Georgia soldiers want to feel a sense of accomplishment, that they did something to make a difference instead of "just riding around in circles in Baghdad." Nothing would be better, he said, than to save Noor, especially now, at Christmas. "If we do anything in this whole deployment, we'd like to make this happen," he said.
December 25th, 2005  
Chief Bones
Don't tell me that we are not accomplishing anything over there in Iraq!
This is one family that will NEVER think bad thoughts about Americans again.

One child, one set of parents, one family - this is the way that we will defeat the terrorist thugs that are killing innocent victims - one child, one set of parents and one family at a time.
December 25th, 2005  
this kid will never forget the kindness of the americans
December 25th, 2005  

Heroes are everywhere. And I'm glad that most of them are American Soldiers.

God Bless them, God Protect them, and I hope that they've had a very Merry Christmas.
December 27th, 2005  
Originally Posted by Chief Bones
Don't tell me that we are not accomplishing anything over there in Iraq!
This is one family that will NEVER think bad thoughts about Americans again.

One child, one set of parents, one family - this is the way that we will defeat the terrorist thugs that are killing innocent victims - one child, one set of parents and one family at a time.
like it's been stated before (see "Bureaucratic Bungle") the war in Iraq can only be won by military and psychological means. This is a good start and something worthy of anyone's favorites folder. I'm glad to hear this is happening.
December 27th, 2005  
Like Chief says, one heart and one mind at a time. It's a matter of inches that will gain miles of good will.