We had just begun our trip in Iraq and were in the ICU setting up and waiting for our very first patient when Dr Novick arrived with one of the cutest children we have ever seen. Her name is Hijar and she is one year old. Hijar was born with a hole between the top chambers of her heart and for most children this is a condition that will not need to be treated until adulthood. Hijar’s family knew she had a heart problem but that she could wait a few years before she needed an operation.
Then one morning Hijar’s mother noticed that her baby was ‘tired’ and not really moving much and then Hijar collapsed- her family rushed her to a hospital in Basra and found that her heart was beating very slowly and she needed an operation immediately to save her life. They were told to take her to Baghdad but with the fighting so near to that city the family were afraid and then someone told them that there was a foreign team of heart specialists in Nasiriyah who might help them. The family immediately drove the 3 hours south and asked the hospital to let them see the foreign team.
Hijar was admitted straight to the ICU where we stabilised her and operated on her the same day- we inserted a pacemaker to increase her heart rate and while we were there we also fixed her other heart problem so she never had to have another operation again! Hijar left the ICU the next day and went home with her parents just 3 days later.
There is no hospital in the south of Iraq that is capable of operating on young children or babies independantly and for most families the idea of travelling North, nearer to the ISIS held areas is frightening. For Hijar this story has a happy ending but there are thousands of young children in Iraq who need our help.