American Forces Press Service
April 24, 2009 - Members of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan recently conducted an unusual mission handover -- rather than discussing troop disposition and battle status, the soldiers were passing along information about bottle feedings and sleeping schedules. For the past few months, task force troops have been caring for an Afghan boy named Ramazan, who is about 9 months old. On April 20, the troops said good-bye to Ramazan as they transferred his care to a team of doctors at a civilian medical facility here.
The wide-eyed baby was first put into the care of the Americans after his father brought him to a special operations forces clinic in Heart province's Shindand district in late January.
Ramazan was about six months old at the time, and barely was hanging onto life. The infant was unable to eat normally due to a congenital defect that left an opening in the palate of his mouth. He was desperately underweight and malnourished.
The clinic staff at first fashioned a special bottle to help to feed Ramazan, but he still was unable to gain the nourishment he needed for survival. Ramazan was flown with his father to a military hospital at Bagram Airfield for further evaluation.
At the hospital, coalition doctors discovered Ramazan had Pierre Robin sequence, a congenital condition leaving him with an abnormally small jaw, an oversized tongue and a cleft palate, or incomplete closure in the roof of his mouth. Task Force soldiers worked with hospital officials to arrange surgery.
"Ramazan had surgery to repair the cleft palate, but complications arose, because he was already so fragile and malnourished," said Army Maj. (Dr.) Michael Tarpey, task force surgeon.
After an extended stay at the hospital, Ramazan's care was turned over to special operations task force medical troops, who welcomed the baby with open arms. Ramazan's father, who has five other children under age 7, had to return to his home in Shindand to support the rest of his family.
Though the special operations troops are prepared to fight wars, not to provide long-term care for babies, they accomplished their mission. Ramazan needs even more attention than the average baby, as he has a tracheotomy, as well as a feeding tube in his stomach, both of which require advanced levels of care.
"This is a highly unusual situation. ... We're not really set up for babies," Tarpey said. "We wouldn't have thought of turning him away, though. Ramazan seemed beyond our capabilities, but we found a way to take care of him nonetheless."
The Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan community banded together to create a loving environment to nurture the baby. The medical section provided around-the-clock care for Ramazan, the engineers built a crib, and many other duty sections gathered toys and clothing. Still others simply stopped by to play with Ramazan and offer hugs and kisses.
"Everybody I talk to just loves Ramazan," one soldier who frequently visited the baby said. "He's the cutest thing ever, and so receptive. Honestly, he's a nice distraction from the day-to-day kinetic operations we support. I'm sorry to see him leave us, because I've grown attached to him, but the best thing we can do for Ramazan is restore his health and get him back to his family as soon as possible."
As the troops cared for the baby, Tarpey was arranging for Ramazan to transfer to the hospital in Kabul.
"Over the last month, we started coordinating with the hospital, and we determined that they have surgeons who can handle the further operations that he needs and a staff that can provide his daily extensive care," Tarpey said. "Time will tell when he'll be able to have the surgeries -- perhaps over the next few months. Ideally, he'll stay at the hospital in Kabul to receive the surgeries and restore his health and, from there, go home to his family."
At the hospital in Kabul, the task force soldiers conducted the Ramazan handover with a team of Afghan doctors. One of Ramazan's main caregivers, an Army medic, described the baby's daily habits and needs to the staff, starting off with a warning that he gets unhappy if not fed every two hours.
The medic just laughed when the director of nursing expressed her amazement at Ramazan's already-emerging personality. "Oh, he's got personality, all right," he told her. "I probably know that baby better than anybody, and if there's one thing he's got, it's personality."
Indeed Ramazan is as full of life as a baby can be, as if he fully understands how close he came to death and must now live every moment as if it is his last. The baby is fascinated with everything and relishes attention.
The medic would not openly admit that he will miss Ramazan, but he gently stroked the baby's hair as he gave him a kiss good-bye. It had been quite a journey for both Ramazan and his caregivers. Ramzan is no longer tiny and malnourished. His months with the task force turned him into a healthy baby with a bright future while he warmed the hearts of many.
"I can say it's been extremely rewarding to see Ramazan's daily strides," Tarpey said. "He's gained weight and strength. ... He can also hold his head up now and hold his own bottle. He's completely alert and aware of his surroundings.
"He'll be a normal baby soon because of his time with us and his time at the hospital in Kabul, the doctor added. "That makes every minute worth it."
(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)