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Florida Guard Assists in Afghan Kids' Lifesaving Treatment

By Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., May 3, 2006 – Two Afghan children are receiving lifesaving treatment in the United States, thanks in part to the efforts of members of the Florida Army National Guard serving in Afghanistan.

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(Left to right) Florida Army National Guard Brig. Gen. John M. Perryman; Ahsan Sarwari and his son, 8-year-old Tamin Sawari; Ainuddin Kofi and his son, 2-year-old Azad Kofi; translator Abdul Matin; and Florida Army National Guard Lt. Col. Tom LaFountain pose for a photo at Camp Phoenix, near Kabul, Afghanistan, before the journey to the states for the children's medical treatment. Photo by Lt. Col. Gregory Moore

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

Earlier this year, medical personnel working with the 53rd Infantry Brigade near Kabul, Afghanistan, identified two local boys -- 2-year-old Azad Kofi and 8-year-old Tamin Sawari -- with congenital heart defects who desperately needed surgery. One soldier, Dr. (Col.) Ronald Renuart Sr., evaluated the children. Renuart was on the medical team assigned to the brigade functioning as lead for Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix IV, at Camp Phoenix.

Renuart, who as a civilian doctor practices osteopathic medicine in Jacksonville, Fla., said the children's outlook was grim if they did not receive proper treatment.

"Congenital heart defects are such that these children would not be expected to live past their teenage years," Renuart explained. "In the United States we can usually repair these heart conditions within the first few months of life. Over there, there's nobody that can do it."

Renuart contacted staff at the Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville to find help for the boys. After a few well-placed phone calls and e-mails, Azad and Tamin were on their way to the United States for treatment.

Expenses for the medical mission were covered by "Patrons of the Hearts," an endowment that brings children from foreign countries to Jacksonville for cardiac care.

The children arrived April 27 accompanied by their fathers and an Afghan interpreter. Throughout May they will receive medical treatment at the Wolfson hospital. Doctors explained that the goal of the surgeries is to improve the boys' blood oxygen levels and extend their life expectancies.

From the beginning of the mission, each step has been a partnership of support between various government, commercial and charitable organizations. The 53rd Infantry Brigade soldiers on the ground near Kabul provided early logistical support for the lifesaving venture, and flight expenses from Afghanistan to Jacksonville for the children and their escorts were donated by Northwest Airlines and the 53rd's Afghan Children's Relief Fund. The children, their fathers and their interpreter are staying at a Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville throughout the duration of treatment and recovery.

"To truly win the global war on terrorism, we truly need to win the hearts and minds of the people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and these countries that have been under terrorist control for years," Renuart said during a press conference in Jacksonville May 1. "And this may be a step towards doing that -- maybe only a small step, but it is important to show the goodwill of the U.S. people."

According to hospital staff, the younger boy Azad has a single functioning ventricle, which has lead to severely impaired oxygen levels. Eight-year-old Tamin suffers from a condition called "tetralogy of fallot," a combination of four specific defects that causes chronically poor circulation.

Treatment for this level of cardiovascular care typically costs more than $40,000, according to the Wolfson hospital.

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa is assigned to the Florida National Guard.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDr. (Col.) Ronald Renuart poses with hospital staff, 2-year-old Azad Kofi, 8-year-old Tamin Sarwari, and their fathers, following a press conference at Wolfson Children's Hospital, in Jacksonville, Fla., May 1. Renuart set in motion a series of events that led to the boys coming to Jacksonville from Afghanistan for treatment of congenital heart defects. Photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageTwo-year-old Azad Kofi sits on his father's knee during a press conference at which doctors discuss his heart condition at Wolfson Children's Hospital, in Jacksonville, Fla., May 1. Azad and 8-year-old Tamin Sawari (left) were brought from Afghanistan to Jacksonville for treatment with the assistance of the Florida National Guard. Photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, USAF  
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