- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

An 8-month-old Iraqi girl with a possibly fatal growth in her neck arrived at a Columbus, Ohio, hospital yesterday, weeks after her parents carried her into a U.S. military base in Iraq.

She is the latest in a growing number of Iraqis brought out of the war zone to receive treatment for life-threatening diseases by doctors in the United States or in other countries.

Although a spokesman at the Pentagon said, “There is by no means a program” in place for bringing such Iraqis to the United States, the case of Fatemah Hassan is “not the only” one of its kind.

Fatemah is the third Iraqi child to receive treatment at Columbus Children’s Hospital. But she is the first to land there specifically through military channels.

The other two children, both of whom had “extensive congenital heart defects since birth,” were brought to Columbus by Iraqi and U.S. humanitarian groups, said hospital spokeswoman Pamela Barber.

Military officials could not say exactly how many Iraqis have been brought to the United States for medical treatment, but Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel D. Hetlage, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said the number is “in the teens.”

“Since there is not a program for this, it’s handled on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Such efforts rely on a coordination among military doctors, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq and the United Nations International Office for Migration.

James Haveman, who until recently served as the CPA’s senior adviser for health, said the United States is one of several countries with hospitals and doctors willing to take on extra civilian patients from the war zone.

“King Hussein hospital in Jordan is committed to take 100 kids [from Iraq] this year,” he said, adding that at least 30 already have been brought to that country, which shares a border with Iraq.

“I know we’ve sent 30 to 40 kids to Germany,” Mr. Haveman said, adding that Iraqi children facing life-threatening diseases — particularly cancer or heart-related ailments — also are being taken to Italy, Egypt, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.

Although he said there have been cases in which the U.S. military has provided flights for the children with their parents to Germany and elsewhere, some countries, such as Greece, send planes directly to Iraq to pick up the children.

In Fatemah’s case, Mrs. Barber said, some of the military physicians based in Iraq are from Ohio and felt the girl’s condition — thought to be a cavernous hemangioma, an abnormally dense group of blood vessels that could grow to restrict her breathing — could be treated best at Columbus hospital’s special hemangioma and vascular malformations clinic.

One of the physicians in Iraq “actually called straight to the doctor who heads up that clinic,” Mrs. Barber said. “Then the military handled all the arrangements. We weren’t involved in her transport at all.”

U.S. troops brought the baby and her 21-year-old mother, Beyda’a Amir Abdul Jabar, by military transport to the United States, and Rep. Ted Strickland, Ohio Democrat, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, helped them obtain visas, according to the Associated Press.

With the care provided free, Mrs. Barber said, the baby “has been undergoing a diagnostic work-up all day long, and so far, the test results indicate that we are going to be able to help her.”

Cmdr. Hetlage pointed to a recent example of six Iraqi men whose hands had been cut off by Saddam Hussein’s regime after they were rounded up and accused of trading in U.S. dollars in 1996.

Cmdr. Hetlage said a television documentarian found out about the men in Iraq, and before long, arrangements were made to ship them to the Texas Medical Center and Baylor University in Houston, where they’re receiving free care and “state-of-the-art” prosthetic hands.

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