War on Terrorism

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guardmembers, community give Afghan infant new chance at life

By Sgt. Rebecca Linder
Task Force Rushmore Public Affairs

CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan (3/25/11 )- Being in a combat zone is a sacrifice, and leaving friends, family and other necessities at home while serving here continues to be an act of selfless service donated by thousands of servicemembers year after year.

Acting by impulse to help others is a gift that military members bring to the table all around the world, and here in Afghanistan one noble act contributed by many Americans helped to save a local infant’s life.   

Air Force Lt. Col. John Newman, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan / Combined Security Transition – Afghanistan, was introduced to an Afghan soldier, Faqir, who said his granddaughter, Asma, was in need of a life-saving heart surgery because of blue baby syndrome, a medical disorder where babies are born with heart conditions that decrease the oxygenation capacity.

“Children born with congenital heart defects often need surgery in order to definitely treat the problem,” said Army Capt. Regan Norgaard, physician’s assistant, 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, who helped asses Asma. “In her case, a heart surgery was vital in order to provide more oxygenation to the rest of her body.”

Newman added, “The only reason Asma survived as long as she did is because of a leak between the chambers of her heart where the blood could mix.”

Newman, senior advisor to the senior personnel officer at logistics command, outside of Kabul, said he knew she needed help after looking at her passport photo and seeing a picture of the sick 10 month old. He added he was willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to get her help.

“This whole thing puts a lump in my throat really,” said Newman. “When I saw that picture of Asma, I knew I had to do something.”
Knowing Newman was a member of Operation Outreach – Afghanistan, a non-profit organization that receives gifts and donations such as school supplies, blankets and clothes, then puts them in care packages and delivers them to needy villages throughout Kabul, Faqir hoped Newman would have a connection to be able to help his granddaughter.

“When I first learned of baby Asma’s condition, I remembered a similar case that the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team had worked in 2005 for an Afghan boy,” said Newman. “I called and spoke to leadership back with the Indiana National Guard about Asma; they gave me the green light and said it would be a worthwhile cause to find a way to save her.”

After getting the go ahead from his leadership, Newman forwarded all the information he had on Asma to a pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. Mark Turrentine, at Indiana University and Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, who is very familiar with cases like this.

“Dr. Turrentine is one of the top pediatric heart surgeons in the United States and agreed to provide his services free of charge,” said Newman.

Another generous offer by the Rotary Club’s Gift of Life International, a charity that joined with Riley hospital in 1999, which agreed to provide five surgeries per year to children from third world countries, was willing to help with any extra costs.

After coordinating with Lt. Col. (retired) James Graham, who works with the Rotary Club of Central Indiana, the chapter agreed to help offset the cost of the surgery and provide accommodations at the Ronald McDonald house, next to the hospital.

Teaming up with Dr. Turrentine at Riley Hospital once again, was another organization, Children in Need International, which helps to provide transportation to medical facilities all over the world for children in countries that cannot provide that medical care.

CINI has teamed up with Turrentine in the past to help Iraqi children in need over the years and is now very pleased to be able to expand their work into Afghanistan to support Asma, added Newman.

“CINI serves as the bridge between the children and other charities, providing visa coordination and air transportation to the point of care,” said Newman. “The foundation also provides assistance to the guardians in the U.S. or country of care.”

After lining up the surgery, Newman said he knew the language barrier would be difficult for the family, so getting an escort was a necessity, but getting an interpreter from Afghanistan wasn’t a possibility.

Using his National Guard connections, he was able to coordinate through Camp Atterbury, Ind., a major mobilization training station, to get a Dari-speaking interpreter from Indiana University.

Dan McFerrin, a retired Marine, also the husband to the president of CINI volunteered his time to escort Asma and her family to America and upon arrival would meet the translator and other Indiana National Guard members at the airport.

“I felt so blessed once again,” said Newman. “Not only did I find someone who was willing to flip the bill for round-trip tickets back to the United States for Asma and her grandparents, he was also willing to escort the family.”

“Guard connections have been really unique to this situation. Being a Guardsman, you have people that are Citizen-Soldiers who are doctors, lawyers, policemen and others, and those connections in the Guard are really what help facilitate missions like this,” added Newman.

Guard connections came in handy once again as Newman needed help gathering a few missing pieces before the family would fly out Jan. 12.

Members of the 196th’s Staff Judge Advocate section, helped to provide power of attorneys for Asma’s grandparents to be able to fly with her and make medical decisions on her behalf; while Norgaard was able to test Asma’s oxygen levels before flying.

Prior to seeing Norgaard, Asma’s family tried four times at different hospitals throughout Kabul, but could not get her levels read. Fortunately, Newman was able to bring her and her family to camp, who then had Norgaard and his team assess Asma.

“We take for granted going to the doctor and them putting a reader on your finger to measure the oxygen levels,” said Newman.  “Here, they don’t have that type of technology, so working with Task Force Rushmore provider, Norgaard, through OOA was a big help.”

Determining if Asma would make the flight, and to see if she needed any extra equipment or supplemental oxygen along the way, Norgaard coordinated with Dr. Turrentine and was able to facilitate the decision that she was fit to travel and get her surgery. 

Arranging transportation, expediting visa’s, and finding an escort for Asma and her family was no easy task, but came as answers to his prayers, said Newman.

“I was so blessed because every time I hit a roadblock, I prayed on it and the next day there would be an answer for a way to help,” said Newman. “Everything just fell into place, and it is really quite miraculous; it is crazy that she was even still alive at 45 percent oxygen levels in the blood, which were her readings in the United States.”

Although a strong Christian, Newman added, “This surgery transcends politics and religion. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what religion you are; when you help a child like this, it’s just the right thing to do.”

On Feb. 11, more than $400,000 worth of surgeries was provided for free for Asma by Dr. Turrentine, Riley Hospital and Indiana University, and overall close to half-a-million dollars was donated in a collective effort through the hospital, CINI and Gift of Life for travel, room and board, and the visas for the family.

“Today, more than a month after her surgery, Asma now has 100 percent oxygen levels in her blood for the first time in her life,” said Newman. “She is a totally new child with so much more energy. She is off medication, totally healed, strong, and the doctor said she was going to live a normal, happy life.”

Without  a plan or doubt and knowing there wasn’t much time, Newman, stepped up to coordinate her surgery and placing together the pieces that needed to happen, one Afghan child got a second chance at life.

No comments: