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Afghan Girl Has Surgery for Heart Defect

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Here's a new development in a story we've been following about a six-year-old Afghan girl named Adila. She has a life-threatening heart defect, and with the help of the U.S. military, she was taken by her family to Karachi in southeastern Pakistan for surgery.

NPR's Afghanistan correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson picks up the story.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: After weeks of delay, Adila went into surgery Friday night to repair her malformed heart. She has Tetralogy of Fallot, a birth defect that keeps the heart from sending enough oxygen to the body. After a series of missteps, U.S. Army doctors in Afghanistan last month arranged for Adila to have the corrective surgery in Pakistan. The Army found an anonymous donor to cover the roughly $6,000 cost of Adila's operation. Soldiers also paid for Adila's family to take her by bus to Karachi. But she became sick during the two-day journey with a stubborn infection that resisted antibiotics. That led the doctors at the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi to repeatedly delay her surgery.

They wanted to clear up the infection first. But on Friday, the surgeons decided they could wait no longer because Adila was rapidly weakening. So that evening, they began to operate. The surgery lasted about four hours. Doctors say it was a success, and Adila was well enough to be moved Tuesday from intensive care to a regular room at the hospital. Her guardian and uncle, Talib, who brought her to Karachi, says Adila spoke her first words Tuesday since the surgery. She asked for grapes. Talib says he was overcome by emotion, and kissed her on the cheek. He told Adila that from now on, she'd feel better, but the child is still not well enough to go home to her village in Kunar province, northeast of Kabul. Doctors say Adila still has an infection, and therefore will stay at the hospital in Karachi for follow-up treatment until next month.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News. 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.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
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.