Marine Corps News | LCpl. Shawn Coolman | January 25, 2008
HADITHA CITY, Iraq - Three-year-old Amina Al'a Thabit has one chance at life.
On a routine meet-and-greet patrol through the city streets of Haditha, Marines with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 noticed something wasn't quite right with little Amina.
"The first day we saw her, we thought she was the cutest girl," said Sgt. Bryan C. Velasquez, 23, a Company L squad leader from Houston. "We just fell in love with her."
Amina has a congenital heart condition, known as Complex Cyanotic Heart Disease that can't be treated with the current facilities in Iraq.
"She is unable to oxygenate her blood properly," said Navy Capt. John H. Nadeau, the battalion surgeon. "She unfortunately has a number of birth defects; the blood bypasses her lungs and gets pumped around her body without sufficient oxygen."
The battalion raised approximately $30,000 for her safe travel to the U.S. and to have open heart surgery. If not treated, her life expectancy would be dire.
"We needed about $30,000 to fly a U.S. medical team to Jordon and fly Amina and her mom back to the U.S.," said Maj. John K. Jarrard, 35, commanding officer, Company L, who is from Gainesville, Ga. "This is a huge effort; folks back home, private donations, everyone came together to make this happen."
The effort to get Amina and her mother clearance to enter the U.S. was facilitated by the battalion's communications officer, Maj. Jake J. Falcone, through the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, with whom he is a civilian contractor.
"By word of mouth we hope this act will spread the message that we're not the devil or here for oil," said Falcone.
Amina arrived in the U.S. Wednesday and is now at the Monroe Carell Jr. Childrens' Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., awaiting her surgery.
"Amina is in the hands of the best surgeons in the America," said Jarrard.
While not with her daughter at the hospital, Amina's mother is staying at a local home of an Iraqi family that Jarrards' wife and aunt found through the hospital.
The future for the Haditha City Hospital looks promising.
Amina was diagnosed with her condition here, but there are not sufficient facilities or equipment to perform these kinds of operations, said Jarrard.
"The doctors can diagnose it now to some degree, but with a year-long 7.5 million dollar upgrade to the hospital starting in March, they will," said Jarrard. "Iraqi doctors are exceptional; it's just a matter of providing them with the facilities and equipment."
The Iraqi government backed the Marines effort with their unconditional support.
"We couldn't have done this without the full support of the Iraqi government from the local to the national level," said Jarrard. "We're making progress to take care of these kinds of problems right here in Iraq," said Jarrard.
"We have done everything we can - all we can do is pray for a successful surgery and rapid recovery," said Jarrard.
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