BAGRAM, Afghanistan – An 8-year-old Afghan boy whose defective heart has stunted his growth and doesn’t allow him to run or play soccer will travel to Washington, D.C., this week, where doctors will perform lifesaving surgery, officials said Monday.
Without the open-heart surgery, doctors say, Omar Mohammed, a shy boy who at times flashes a wide smile, likely would not live to adulthood.
Afghan doctors have known for years that Omar has a serious condition, but it was not properly diagnosed until American doctors used an ultrasound about a year ago.
Lt. Col. Drew Kosmowski, chief surgeon at the main U.S. base in Bagram, said Omar’s heart has a hole that prevents his blood from carrying as much oxygen as it should – stunting his growth and harming his organs.
His condition requires several surgeries, which will be performed at Children’s National Medical Center.
“Our hope is that this young Afghan boy, who is just a delight to be with, will be able to grow up and have a happy, normal life. Right now, he can’t go out and play without getting winded,” Kosmowski said. “We feel that if this is not fixed soon, it’s something he could die of.”
Omar was alternately shy and smiling as his doctors and father spoke with reporters Monday.
Omar and Kosmowski often exchanged wry smiles or slapped hands.
Omar’s favorite part of his treatment has been a helicopter ride – and the food. When asked how he feels about going to the United States, he whispers one word: “Happy.”
Omar and his father could leave Afghanistan as early as today aboard a U.S. military plane and land in Washington as early as Thursday.
His father, Fadhim Mohammed, said he and his wife are thankful for the aid.
“I feel very good because I didn’t think he’d be able to go to the United States,” he said.
The Larry King Cardiac Foundation – founded by the host of CNN’s “Larry King Live,” who had quintuple bypass heart surgery in 1987 – will pay the medical costs. The Afghan Embassy will help Omar and his father find a place to live during the several months they will be in the United States.
Omar’s mother; sister, 5; and brother, 4, will stay in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said they hope Afghan medical facilities will improve so Omar’s type of surgery can be done there.
“There’s no way possible to treat every chronic illness in a country, but this helps one family, and it raises awareness for the medical needs” in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, a U.S. military spokesman.