Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Soldier Helps Iraqi Girl with Congenital Heart Condition

To help Spc. Michael Kim in his efforts, he can be contacted at brotheryoga (at)

Soldier Helps Iraqi Girl with Congenital Heart Condition Print E-mail
Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Army Spc. Michael Kim of New York City, a member of the 415th Civil Affairs Company, holds Rawan, a 5-year-old Iraqi girl with a congenital heart disease, during her visit to the civil-military operations center on Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Oct. 9, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret.
— Rawan, a 5-year-old Iraqi girl, bounced on the couch and clapped her tiny hands, evoking laughter from those watching her.

From the color of her blue lips, she looked as though she might have savored one grape-flavored lollipop too many. She sang as she bounced, but her voice came out as wisps of air, as if she were playing a joke on her grandparents to force them to listen closely. Her skin is pale compared to the rich skin color of her grandfather and grandmother, who visited with U.S. Soldiers here to talk about her condition.

Rawan has a congenital heart disease, an extreme condition that affects her pulmonary arteries and lungs, causing her to talk in soft rasps, limiting oxygen to her skin and causing the blue tint of her lips.

Her family brought Rawan to the civil-military operations center in hopes of receiving help. Soldiers with the 415th Civil Affairs Company and the 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery, have been working with Rawan’s family since June, when the mayor of Jabella approached one of their officers about her condition.

“They’re showing everybody they are really great people who really care about humans; doesn’t matter if Iraqis or Americans,” Rawan’s grandfather, Ali Isa Amran, said of the Soldiers. “They do care about Iraqi [children] right here, and that’s showing a really good picture of America to all of the world.”

Army Spc. Michael Kim has spearheaded the effort to find good medical care and raise money for an operation Rawan needs.

“I feel that in America we try to help the poor, and I think that just because I’m here in Iraq, it shouldn’t stop me from being an American citizen and doing my duty to serve,” said Kim, a native of New York City’s Manhattan borough. “Not just as a Soldier, but as a citizen helping people, because back home I used to send people to the homeless shelters. I used to refer them to food pantries.”

Kim said his drive to serve the people of Iraq comes from his faith and religious studies. He studied philosophy and religious psychology at Yale University, and carries those teachings with him wherever he goes.

Kim is a former Marine reservist and works as a combat trauma specialist and psychoanalyst for a Veterans Affairs hospital in New York City.

It had been 16 years since Kim had last put on a uniform as a servicemember before he deployed to Iraq. He decided to return to the military for a one-year commitment and volunteered for a deployment with the Army. He wanted to serve in a civil capacity, and meeting Rawan gave him exactly that opportunity.

Kim sought the help of fellow Soldiers and groups back home to raise money for Rawan’s surgery. He spoke with Iraqi doctors at the National Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad to seek their help evaluating Rawan. He helped link Rawan with the Ibn al-Bitar Hospital in Baghdad to have her receive an echocardiogram to scan her heart.

He then contacted medical institutions and hospitals throughout the United States to look at Rawan’s echo screening, which unfortunately revealed how severe her condition truly was.

“Rawan’s cardiac condition has limited her quality of life, and she’s often tired,” Kim said. “Her heart defect has also affected her lungs, so she has trouble breathing. Because of all of this, it’s been a challenge to find help.”

A group in the United States known as ‘Team Rawan’ has been able to raise $1,500 and plan on raising more. More friends in Daytona, Fla., held a party to raise awareness and money.

Babylon University in Hillah, Iraq, also has offered to help, providing cardiac tomography imaging. For the operation, Kim is looking at options in India, where doctors are treating children from developing countries and leading the way in progressive medicine, he said.

Kim admitted he’s faced doubt in trying to find a solution for Rawan. It is only because of the support he has received from people around the world that he has found the strength to keep going, he said.

“Luckily, I’ve got Soldiers and concerned Americans and others and Iraqis who are very supportive,” he said. “Every morning I wake up and say, ‘I got people working with me, so everything’s OK.’”

(By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret, 3rd Infantry Division)

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