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National Guard Unit Helps Ailing Iraqi Baby

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National Guard Unit Helps Ailing Iraqi Baby

Iraq

National Guard Unit Helps Ailing Iraqi Baby

National Guard Unit Helps Ailing Iraqi Baby

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Members of a Georgia National Guard unit are helping make sure an Iraqi infant is treated for a severe spinal defect. Photojournalist Bill Putnam is following the story for North Country Public Radio.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Earlier this month, members of the Georgia National Guard were conducting a house-to-house search operation in the Abu Ghraib area of Baghdad when they discovered an unusual sight. Her name is Noor. She's a baby suffering from spina bifida. Noor's family had been told she would not live past 45 days; somehow she had lasted four months, but she needed help. Finding Noor medical treatment has prompted an international effort spearheaded by the National Guard and the US Army's 10th Mountain Division. Bill Putnam filed this report from Baghdad.

(Soundbite of woman talking to baby)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

BILL PUTNAM reporting:

The soldiers expected to find an insurgent at the house. Instead, they found a grandmother, her nine children and her granddaughter, Noor, a four-month-old baby girl. Half of Noor's spine was protruding from her back. Sergeant Nicholas Jeltz(ph) was there.

Sergeant NICHOLAS JELTZ (Georgia National Guard): And so she pulled it out and it just--I was like, `Whoa.' So I--that's when I brought my doc in and I was, like, `Doc, come tell me what this is.'

PUTNAM: Noor's grandmother asked the infantrymen for help. The platoon's medic, Private Justin Donnelly(ph), said he'd never seen anything like it. They gave the family some lotion for Noor's back and took a photograph of her condition. When the mission was over, they showed the image to their company commander. He was moved to help, and on Wednesday, Noor was brought to the base with her father and grandmother. Later, Army Captain Keith Compton, a pediatrician, laid out her immediate care needs.

Captain KEITH COMPTON (US Army): I need to get an X-ray of her chest and her belly, make sure there isn't anything hiding in there like a little pneumonia or something, you know, just as a precaution, maybe draw a lab test to make sure that there's no sign of infection or anything like that.

PUTNAM: Noor will likely never walk, but in order to live, she needs her spine placed back in her body, a complicated procedure under any conditions. The company commander contacted a few charities back home. A surgeon at a Children's Hospital in Atlanta offered to perform the surgery for free if someone could get Noor to the US. Later, American Airlines agreed to fly Noor from Kuwait City to Atlanta for free. And finally, the Marriott Hotel chain is letting the family stay in one of their hotels during Noor's treatment. The story made news around the world. CNN aired a piece yesterday just before the family flew out of Baghdad on an Air Force C-130.

(Soundbite of CNN newscast)

Unidentified Woman #2: ...survival this morning. She's about to leave Baghdad on that military aircraft with her father and her grandmother and she'll travel to Kuwait. And then it's onward to the United States, to Atlanta, as you mentioned, where she'll undergo treatment for a spinal cord defect known as...

PUTNAM: Getting Noor out of Iraq was challenging. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss worked with the US ambassador to Iraq to get visas approved virtually overnight. Noor was also added to her father's passport Thursday afternoon just before the Iraqi Foreign Ministry closed for their weekend. Noor and her family flew out of Baghdad Friday afternoon. Before boarding the transport plane, Noor's grandmother said she couldn't be happier.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman #3: She say that some of the Iraqi doctor thought maybe she died, but we didn't lose the hope of her health thing. We pray to the god to take care of her, to keep her.

PUTNAM: Platoon medic Donnelly says this isn't just a story about helping a sick Iraqi child.

Mr. JUSTIN DONNELLY (Platoon Medic): It's really something to see somebody actually taking a step outside of their own personal cultural box to, you know, get help and actually befriend us so...

PUTNAM: Yeah.

Noor and her family are expected to arrive in Atlanta this afternoon. Her surgery and treatment will likely take two months.

WERTHEIMER: That was photojournalist Bill Putnam reporting from Baghdad.

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