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Afghan Girl Gets Help from Soldiers, Americans

By Army Pfc. Kimberly D. Cole
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 9, 2009 – A 2-year-old girl from Afghanistan’s Gardez province and her family flew to Cincinnati earlier this month to have reconstructive surgery on the child’s trachea, a procedure made necessary after the girl swallowed a battery last year.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Robert Elwood, chief of pediatrics at Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and Air Force Capt. LaRita Abel, nurse manager in the hospital’s intensive-care wing, hold a news conference about Nazia Gardezi’s upcoming surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center with Afghan media, March 30, 2009. In the middle, Nazia sits on the lap of her brother, Hatiquallah Gardezi. The Afghan girl was later flown to Cincinnati for reconstructive trachea surgery. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Kimberly D. Cole

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Nazia Gardezi had been a permanent resident of the intensive-care wing at Craig Joint Theater Hospital here since October, when she was brought back to the hospital with severe pneumonia due the family’s inability to suction her airway properly.

“Unfortunately,” explained Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Robert Elwood, chief pediatrician at the hospital, “this kind of airway takes a certain amount of routine care. A lot of suctioning needs to take place, and the family’s living circumstances made it where they were really incapable of taking care of it properly.”

Elwood said the team of physicians who treated Nazia here was able to repair the injury to her esophagus, but the airway had narrowed from scarring, and Nazia could not move air in and out of her lungs.

“Fortunately, a group from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center learned of her case and has offered a team of highly specialized surgeons to do a reconstruction of her trachea,” Elwood said.

As the team of physicians prepared Nazia for her four-to-six-month trip, Elwood said she will be greatly missed.

“She has learned to walk here, and has learned a very impressive vocabulary for a 2-year-old,” Elwood said. “The team has come to think of her like one of their own children. You have to stand in line to get a chance to play with her.”

Air Force Capt. LaRita Abel, nurse manager for the intensive care wing, agreed.

“She really has become a part of our family. Every nurse and every technician really adores her,” Abel said, adding that she will miss Nazia dearly while she’s gone.

“She has been a real pleasure to take care of,” Abel said. “It’s been a challenge, and it’s been an honor.”

Once the reconstruction to Nazia’s trachea is complete, she will no longer need her tracheotomy and will be able to return to a normal life with her family, doctors said.

That sits well with Elwood.

“She’s been a star,” Elwood said. “She is a very special little girl, and we’ve been very fortunate to have her.”

(Army Pfc. Kimberly D. Cole serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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