BAGHDAD – An Iraqi boy born with a rare congenital defect captured the hearts of a group of U.S. soldiers who stumbled upon him in a farming village southeast of Baghdad.
The 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment decided to help. Six months and two intricate surgeries later, Ihaab Najim Mohammed, 5, has a chance at a full, healthy life.
Born with an obstructed bowel condition, Ihaab was taken to a Baghdad pediatric hospital when he was 3 days old. At the time, surgeons created an opening, a stoma, on the abdomen, so Ihaab could pass stool.
But as he grew, the stoma could not keep up. Ihaab’s health worsened and he increasingly faced severe infections.
Unemployed and with seven children to care for, Ihaab’s father, Najim Mohammed, 40, could not afford the $3,200-reconstructive surgeries he was told his son needed. .
Ihaab was plagued by anemia, stunted growth and the discomfort of having a bag attached to his abdomen to hold his intestines.
“No one knew exactly what, but we had to do something,” said squadron commander, Capt. Jimmy Hathaway, of Fort Benning, Ga.
The U.S. soldiers got in touch with a hospital in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, where a team of Iraqi doctors agreed to perform the surgeries on Ihaab at no charge.
The next hurdle was to get Ihaab to Najaf. Driving was impossible; the roads through the volatile area south of the Iraqi capital were too dangerous.
Hathaway’s soldiers appealed to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who offered to lend them his own aircraft.
By early June, two Black Hawks, two Apaches and a Medevac team were ready.
But Ihaab wasn’t. He was crying, afraid to leave his mother, Badriya, behind.
“He was scared at first,” Hathaway said, describing how Ihaab sat in his father’s lap in the helicopter. “We had to stop and refuel, and he seemed to relax after that.”
The first surgery, on June 17, went well, Hathaway said, but Ihaab still had to carry the colostomy bag. He returned to Najaf for a second surgery, and on Oct. 8, the stoma was permanently closed.