- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Basira Jan arrived at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan weighing scarcely 35 pounds, sluggish and prone to alarming episodes of bluish skin if she so much as walked briskly.

Born with a malformed heart that left her body starved of oxygen, Basira faced a bleak future amid the country’s poverty — until Indiana National Guardsmen heard about her plight and vowed to help.

“I wanted to make a difference, to make a little piece of the world better because we were there,” said Indiana Guardsman Capt. Michael Roscoe, 33, a physician’s assistant who examined Basira in the spring when her father brought her to Camp Phoenix, where U.S. troops train the Afghan army.

That meeting set in motion a journey that took Basira to Indianapolis, where doctors saved the 6-year-old’s life.

Basira is one of about a dozen Afghan and Iraqi children in the past two years to travel to U.S. cities such as Tampa, Fla.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Indianapolis for medical treatment unavailable in their homelands, said Lt. Col. Donald Cole, director of patient movement for the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville, Ill.

Getting an Afghan or Iraqi child to an American hospital is no easy task. Diplomatic and military hurdles must be crossed; stateside hospitals must be willing to perform surgery for free; and Rotary Clubs and other groups must be enlisted to help.

Basira’s journey began with help from a local chapter of Gift of Life International Inc., a nonprofit that works through Rotary Clubs.

Chairman Robbie Donno said the Great Neck, N.Y.-based group has arranged heart surgeries for more than 4,000 children from 60-plus nations since 1974. One of its goals in helping ailing children from developing countries is to promote world peace.

“The bottom line is, ‘If you help my child, my daughter or my son, you save their life, how could you be my enemy?’” Mr. Donno said.

Doctors at the Riley Hospital for Children agreed to donate their services, and Basira underwent corrective heart surgery in September that restored the normal movement of oxygen-enriched blood through her body.

Since then, she has transformed into a ball of energy, racing around on a bike and leading her father, whom she once begged to carry her, on half-mile walks.

“She has been riding her bike like a mad woman. She’s really doing quite good,” said Dr. Mark Turrentine, who performed the surgery.

Basira and her father, Ghulam Ghaus, 46, pass their days at a Ronald McDonald House set along a quiet, tree-lined street near the hospital.

Basira has overnighted several times with the family of Capt. Steve Fippen, one of the Guardsmen who helped arrange her trip to Indiana. Capt. Fippen’s 5-year-old daughter, Emily, has become fast friends with Basira. Despite the language barrier, they share a love of dolls and video games.

Capt. Fippen said the Florida Guardsmen who replaced their Indiana counterparts in the summer have been bringing food to Basira’s mother and seven siblings.

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