Afghan Boy's U.S. Surgery A Success

Umer Mohammed CBS

A 7-year-old boy from Afghanistan was in critical condition following open heart surgery Thursday at Children's National Medical Center.

The surgery to correct Umer Mohammed's congenital heart defect was successful, said Dr. Richard Jonas, who performed the operation, but because of the boy's age, he faces risks during recovery.

Jonas closed a hole in the boy's heart and removed blockages in the arteries to his lungs — defects that are usually detected and corrected in infancy.

"He's come through the surgery well," said Jonas, a pioneer in the procedure. "The next 24 to 48 hours is a critical time. Assuming that things go well over that period, I think he's got a very good chance of doing just fine over the longer term."

Jonas said Umer owes his life to Maj. T. Sloane Guy, an Army surgeon who took up his cause while on duty in Afghanistan. Guy and others had been working to get Umer to the United States for more than a year.

"I have a little boy who is about three years old and ironically they are about the same size, because this condition will make you grow less fast," said Guy.

CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports Umer is from a remote village in northeastern Afghanistan. Last April, he was so sick his father turned to the U.S. military for help. Major Guy realized the equipment needed to save Mohammed's life wasn't available in Afghanistan.

"I made a commitment to him to try to bring him over here," said Guy.

But it took more than a year to get the boy here. He and his father were twice denied visas. So Major Guy went to the top for help, calling senator and heart surgeon Bill Frist, with whom he had trained.

Frist helped secure visas for Umer and his father to enter the country after their applications were initially denied.

"I believe that providing humanitarian relief is not only an act of compassion, but can also serve as a currency for peace," Frist said in a statement.

The Larry King Cardiac Foundation is covering the medical costs. The foundation was started by the host of CNN's "Larry King Live," who had quintuple bypass heart surgery in 1987.

The Afghan embassy is helping Umer and his father find a place to stay while they're in Washington.

Workers in an Army field hospital had dubbed the boy "Blue," because his condition caused his skin to take on a blue tone. Guy contacted doctors at Children's, who agreed to do the surgery.

When he first met Umer, Guy said, he found him to be an intelligent, delightful child.

"It's sort of beyond words to bring a child from remote Afghanistan to Washington, D.C., to undergo open heart surgery," said Guy. "This effort doesn't just help Mohammed, but it helps build good relationships with the people in that region, in Afghanistan."

Umer's father, Fateh Mohammed, 27, appeared at the hospital news conference, expressing gratitude to those who made the procedure possible. Speaking through a translator, he thanked all Americans, calling them very good and kind. He said he is looking forward to taking his son home and putting him in a good school.

Umer is expected to remain in intensive care for the next week. A pacemaker will take control of his heart if it develops a blockage, said Dr. Gerard Martin, chief of cardiology at Children's.

"He has two important problems that make him at risk for low blood pressure," Martin said.

Because of the Umer's long-standing heart disease, his heart is four or five times thicker than normal, Martin said. Also, the left side of his heart is probably 50 percent smaller than expected, because blood wasn't making it over to that side before the surgery.
  • Joel Roberts

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