CAMP BUCCA, Iraq — Muhammad K. Ahmed claps his hands for visitors and Coalition forces at the Camp Bucca Visitation Center, which is his first visit since the heart operation in Mian, Italy in June. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Amie J. McMillan)
By Spc. Amie J. McMillan
42nd Military Police Brigade
Public Affairs Specialist
CAMP BUCCA, Iraq‚ÄîIraqi medical professionals told his mother he would not live past 5-years-old if he did not have surgery, which would cost the family more than they could afford; but with the help of Coalition forces, donations and hospitals, Muhammad K. Ahmed has a chance at a full life.
When Muhammad, 15-months-old at the time, and his mother, Fatma N. Jadouh first visited the Camp Bucca Visitation Center in December 2007, his appearance alarmed the guard force and particularly Zack Koyi, a Bilingual Bicultural Advisor (BBA). Muhammad’s face was blue, he was lethargic and his mother said he was not eating well. He was taken to the Theater Internment Facility (TIF) hospital, where doctors examined Muhammad and diagnosed him with tetralogy of Fallot, the most common form of complex congenital heart defects that cause cyanosis, also known as “blue baby”.
The combination of a hole in the heart, narrowing of the vessel to the lungs and overriding of the blood vessel to the body across the hole, results in the “blue” blood mixing with the “pink” blood, which causes the “blue” appearance.
Doctors from the TIF hospital recommended Muhammad seek further diagnosis and treatment in a more specialized hospital. Coincidently, days later, Col. Felicia F. Pehrson, Director of Clinical Operations, Multi-National Forces-Iraq Surgeon, and a pediatric cardiologist, was at Camp Bucca overseeing Coalition and detainee healthcare operations. Another medical professional at the TIF hospital asked her what her specialty was and explained to her that just days earlier, a baby with congenital heart disease was brought to the hospital for medical evaluation. Upon learning her specialty, a hospital staff member asked if she had recommendations on how to help Muhammad.
“I told him to arrange for the patient to see me in Baghdad upon my return the next week,” said Pehrson.
Financially, the family was unable to afford the trip, so the 42nd Military Police Brigade Civil Affairs team called the Ibn Sina hospital in Baghdad and arranged an appointment for him with a pediatric cardiologist. Service members, civilians and contractors donated money to help Muhammad and his mother with travel expenses.
The family faced another obstacle in finding transportation to Baghdad. They live in Nashwa, a small village about 40 miles north of Basrah. Koyi found a woman who offered to take them to and from Baghdad from Basrah, since she lived in Baghdad. This woman also offered to accommodate the family in her home during their stay in Baghdad. Muhammad and his mother were at the hospital for three nights, where extensive examinations were completed by pediatric cardiologists.
“It was concluded the child needed urgent open heart surgery,” said Koyi.
Due to the cost of the surgery, the Task Force Bucca Civil Affairs team presented the case to the National Iraqi Assistance Center (NIAC) to help find a sponsor to support the procedure.
After obtaining passports for Muhammad and Fatma, NIAC found a sponsor for the operation. Upon receiving word of the sponsor, the family was ready to move forward. There are no direct flights from Baghdad to Italy, requiring the family had to travel to Jordan first.
“Due to the mother’s disability (Polio), which left her weak, I had to escort them to help carry the baby and take them to Jordan,” said Koyi.
“In Jordan, I introduced them to the sponsor representative who took them all the way to Italy,” he added.
The successful heart operation was performed in Milan, Italy at the Department of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery of Ospedale Pasquinucci of Massa about two weeks after their arrival, to ensure Muhammad’s oxygen levels were in a safe range. Muhammad and Fatma remained in Italy for six weeks following the procedure before returning to Basrah in June. A month later, Muhammad and his family returned to Camp Bucca Visitation Center.
“It was an especially good feeling to see him again because he was a happy, healthy child, down on his own two feet, playing like normal kids,” said Sgt. 1st Class John S. Miller, 42nd Military Police Brigade Civil Affairs Non-commissioned Officer in Charge.
Coalition forces provide many services to the people of Iraq to improve their lives, while developing relationships with one another.
“Our visitors, whenever they come here, they tell me they are impressed by the humanitarian treatment and service we are offering them,” said Koyi.
Having spent more than a year in Baghdad, Pehrson said she has seen about 15 Iraqi children with congenital heart disease, several of them extremely ill. She is thrilled Muhammad received his surgery and is doing well, as this was not always the case.
“I still think about how amazing it was to be at the right place at the right time, that someone at Bucca just happened to ask me my specialty, even though I was there for a completely different mission ‚Äì to inspect the detainee healthcare operations,” said Pehrson.
“It really is amazing and I can’t help but think this child was destined to survive,” she added.
Camp Bucca is located approximately 60 miles southeast of Basrah, Iraq.