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Monday, October 22, 2007

U.S. soldiers help get needed surgery for boy

U.S. soldiers help get needed surgery for boy
By Katarina Kratovac, Associated PressArticle Last Updated:10/22/2007 02:37:39 AM PDT

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi boy born with a rare congenital defect captured the hearts of a group of U.S. soldiers who stumbled upon him in a farming village southeast of Baghdad.
The 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment decided to help. Six months and two intricate surgeries later, Ihaab Najim Mohammed, 5, has a chance at a full, healthy life.
Born with an obstructed bowel condition, Ihaab was taken to a Baghdad pediatric hospital when he was three days old. At the time, surgeons created an opening, a stoma, on the abdomen, so Ihaab could pass stool.
But as he grew, the stoma could not keep up. Ihaab's health worsened and he increasingly faced severe infections.
Unemployed and with seven children to care for, Ihaab's father, Najim Mohammed, 40, could not afford the $3,200 reconstructive surgeries he was told his son needed.
Ihaab languished at the family's home in the tiny farming village of Hollandiyah, named for Dutch engineers who constructed the area's canal system some 12 miles southeast of the Iraqi capital.
He was plagued by anemia, stunted growth and the discomfort of having a bag attached to his abdomen to hold his intestines.
"No one knew exactly what, but we had to do something," said squadron commander, Capt. Jimmy Hathaway, of Fort Benning, Ga.
The U.S. soldiers got in touch with a hospital in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, where a team of Iraqi doctors agreed to perform the surgeries on Ihaab at no charge.
The next hurdle was to get Ihaab to Najaf. Driving was impossible; the roads through the volatile area south of the Iraqi capital were too dangerous.
Hathaway's soldiers appealed to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who offered to lend them his own aircraft. The Iraqi Ministry of Health also helped with the hospital logistics.
By early June, two Black Hawks, two Apaches and a Medevac team were ready.
But Ihaab wasn't. He was crying, afraid to leave his mother, Badriya, behind.
"He was scared at first," Hathaway said, describing how Ihaab sat in his father's lap in the helicopter. "We had to stop and refuel, and he seemed to relax after that. He seemed to be having a good time near the end."
The first surgery, on June 17, went well, Hathaway said, but Ihaab still had to carry the colostomy bag. He returned to Najaf for a second surgery that completed the reconstruction, and on Oct. 8, the stoma was permanently closed.
Ihaab has been recovering in Najaf and is expected to come home soon.
First Lt. Christopher Sweitzer, who flew with Ihaab to Najaf, said the journey was extraordinary. Sweitzer's 489th Civil Af fairs battalion is attached to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, which is in charge of the area south of Baghdad.
"But only when I see Ihaab running with other children ... When I see this, then I will know that our team took part in something special and allowed a child to have a full life that will endure for long after we are gone from here," said Sweitzer, 34, of Maryville, Tenn.

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