Two Kurdish girls from Iraq will begin 2004 with a new lease on life following open-heart surgery at Columbus Children’s Hospital Heart Center. Warveen Khalil, 9, and Chra Rashid, 6, arrived in Columbus with their fathers Dec. 20. Diagnostic tests were conducted Dec. 22, and Warveen underwent corrective surgery Dec. 23. Chra underwent surgery Dec. 24.
It was discovered that the girls needed heart surgery when Mercy Ships, in collaboration with Humedica, sent medical teams to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil as part of Operation Iraqi Mercy.
At Children’s Hospital, Warveen was diagnosed with a complex form of congenital heart disease called transposition of the great arteries, as well as ventricular inversion, ventricular septal defect and left ventricular outflow tract obstruction. There was an embryologic reversal of the two pumps and the two main pipes coming out of her heart with a large hole between the pumps and a significant narrowing that limited flow of blood to the lungs. This combination of abnormalities left Warveen blue with limited red, oxygenated blood reaching her body. Her quality of life had become significantly limited—her father reports that for the past couple of years Warveen was unable to walk more than a few steps without exhaustion and used a wheelchair. Without repair she would not have lived to be a teenager.
Warveen underwent a ten-hour corrective surgery led by cardiothoracic surgeon Mark Galantowicz, M.D., co-director, Children’s Hospital Heart Center. She spent the first day after her surgery staring into a mirror at her pink lips, the first time in her memory that they were not blue.
Chra was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect characterized by a hole between the bottom two chambers of the heart, a narrowing at the pulmonary valve, an enlargement of the bottom right side of the heart and alignment of the aorta over the hole between the two bottom chambers. Patients with this defect experience mixing of oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood, and blood traveling to the lungs is restricted by the narrowing at the pulmonary valve.
Samuel Weinstein, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon in the Heart Center, led the team that repaired Chra’s heart. The repair involved closing the hole inside the heart with a patch of Gortex material and enlarging the outflow area in the heart to the lung. An abnormally placed coronary artery added to Chra’s congenital problem but was successfully managed.
Terry Davis, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at Columbus Children’s Hospital Heart Center and chairman of the hospital’s International Patient Steering Committee, coordinated arrangements among all the involved organizations and individuals for the patients to be treated at Columbus Children’s and directed the girls’ care during travel from Iraq.
Galantowicz, Weinstein and Davis are all faculty members in the Department of Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health.
The efforts of several organizations and individuals have been integral in getting Warveen and Chra to treatment in the United States and hosting them during their stay in Columbus. They include: Mercy Ships, Humedica, Kurdish Human Rights Watch, Council on American-Islamic Relations/Ohio Chapter, Asian and Pakistan Cultural Association, Downtown Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Upper Arlington, Capital Square Rotary Club, First Community Church, National Council of Jewish Women/Columbus Section and the offices of Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH).
Warveen and Chra were discharged from Children’s on Dec. 29, and are currently staying with their host families. Both are doing well—Warveen already is walking vigorously—and they will return home to Iraq with their fathers near the end of January.
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