By Army Sgt. Daniel Love
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 15, 2008 - On a warm morning in early June, a worried Abdullah Haqim walked with his daughter into the weekly coalition medical clinic in Afghanistan's Farah province. Six-year-old Gulzana was sick, and local Afghan doctors could not diagnose or treat the painful swelling that had engulfed her left eye. The father watched with a worried expression as a U.S. special operations forces doctor examined the tumor that covered her eye. He was worried because insurgents in the area had warned him that coalition doctors would not help his daughter and may even hurt her.
"This wasn't the type of thing we could treat at the weekly clinic," the doctor said. "Most of our patients here require more basic assistance. Her case required advanced medical care as quickly as we could provide it, so we had to start making plans right away if we were to have a chance of saving her."
Gulzana had an orbital tumor growing from her eye that was expanding to her cheek and eyebrow. In a developing country such as Afghanistan, a child with such an affliction has an extremely low chance of survival. Soon after the American doctor looked at her, he began coordinating life-saving plans.
"We saw this as a case where we could make a difference in a child's life, so we had to act," the doctor said. "It took some effort, but we arranged for Gulzana and her father to arrive here around the same time as Col. David Holck, one of the Air Force's two best optical surgeons."
On the morning of July 7, Holck began his trek here from Baghdad by way of military resupply flights. Holck is chairman of ophthalmology at Wilford Hall Medical Center, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Throughout the same day, Gulzana and her father travelled 14 hours on a bus to Bagram to meet with the doctor.
Haqim, carrying a makeshift travel bag made from a bed sheet, finally met the doctor who would save his daughter's life. Medics changed Gulzana's bandages, and she received a teddy bear from adoring U.S. troops. She shied away from the attention.
The next day, Holck and other coalition doctors scanned Gulzana's head to gauge the size and location of the tumor. Like most children, she didn't seem to like being in the hospital, but she was patient and allowed the medical staff at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here to examine her and plan the required surgery. The tumor had spread from her retina to other parts of her eye, but had not yet affected her skull or brain.
"Based on her scan, we could see that the situation was a little better than we had hoped for," Holck said. "You can't beat the positive outcome of something like this; all we have to do is our job, but we also get the opportunity to make a difference in a child's life."
The following day, Gulzana was on an operating table, surrounded by Air Force and Army doctors. The operation lasted two hours, but when it was finished, she looked like a new child. The tumor was gone, and her eyelid could close. She woke up with bandages on her face and with her happy father holding her hand.
Gulzana and her father will temporarily live here as she recovers. Her smile warms the hearts of the servicemembers who monitor her recovery, and the worried look on her father's face is gone.
"Her mother is gone, and she has had enough pain in her life," Haqim said. "I'm happy that the Americans showed so much care for her and that she is getting better. Before, we were so worried, but now everything has changed and she will have a chance to grow up and be happy."
(Army Sgt. Daniel Love serves in the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Public Affairs Office.)