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Dying Afghan Girl Leaves Country for Surgery

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now, a development in one of the stories we brought you yesterday. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported on a 6-year-old Afghan girl with a lethal heart defect.

Members of the U.S. Army had promised her medical help, which never came through. The girl was then sent to a French hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Well, yesterday, she set off on a trip to Pakistan for surgery that could save her life. Here's Soraya with this update.

NELSON: The French Medical Institute for Children here says they discharged 6-year-old Adila after talking with the U.S. military. The officials say the Army, having found an anonymous donor, is arranging corrective surgery for her in Pakistan.

But her cardiologist in Kabul, as well as doctors at the Aga Khan hospital in Karachi, where she is to get the surgery, are worried how the girl will fare on her trip.

Her taxi trip across the border, paid for privately by U.S. soldiers, began this afternoon. Her uncle and guardian who is with her say they arrived safely in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan a short while ago. He adds that he's since been told to fly with Adila commercially to Karachi tomorrow. And that soldiers would again dig into their pockets to cover the cost. Doctors say it's dangerous for Adila to travel by road because she has no immediate access to oxygen.

A U.S. military spokesman says that they can't legally fly her in one of their helicopters, especially to another country. Her uncle says she fell ill again Monday night during the first part of her journey. The American spokesman says Adila spent the night resting comfortably at a medical facility on a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan.

Adila suffers from a birth defect called tetralogy of Fallot. Her heart is malformed and unable to get enough oxygen to her body. A U.S. Army doctor at an outpost in northeastern Afghanistan sought to arrange surgery for Adila through a charity in Israel. But a series of missteps left the girl stranded in Kabul last week.

In the end, her weakened condition led doctors in the U.S. military to seek out surgery for her in Pakistan. Aga Khan hospital's Dr. Naved Ahmed says when Adila arrived in Karachi, they will run tests before setting her surgery date.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.