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Funds from World Refugee Day concert help save life of baby Iraqi refugee


Funds from World Refugee Day concert help save life of baby Iraqi refugee

Tiny Iraqi refugee Ahmed was born with a heart defect and his parents could not afford to pay for an operation. UNHCR stepped in to ensure life-saving surgery.
19 March 2010
Iraqi refugee baby Ahmad after the surgery at the Hotel Dieu de France Hospital in Beirut.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 19 (UNHCR) - Nizar* and Jihane* reached the safety of Beirut in January after fleeing harassment and threats in their native Iraq, but their ordeal was not over. Although the couple were physically safe, the life of their four-month-old son was in grave danger.

Little Ahmed* was born with a heart defect and his parents could no longer afford to pay for the urgent surgery that he needed. This had not been a problem in their hometown of Kout in central Iraq until the family were targeted and their house looted, Jihane said, adding that "unknown militias stole our money and jewellery. I had the means to treat my son. But that was all gone."

She and her husband were in despair when they went to the UNHCR office in Beirut to register as refugees. Staff at the refugee agency realized that Ahmed needed to be hospitalized immediately and they were determined to help find the funds to pay for the costly treatment that could save his life.

Someone realized that the office still had some of the proceeds from a packed fund-raising concert given by acclaimed Iraqi oud (lute) player Naseer Shamma on World Refugee Day (June 20) last year in Beirut. UNHCR donated US$9,000 with a further US$5,000 coming from HeartBeat, which helps children with congenital heart disease. Young Iraqi refugees donated blood.

Ahmed was taken to the Hotel-Dieu de France Hospital in Beirut, where surgery was carried out in early February. It took eight hours to work on Ahmed's damaged heart - an emotional time for his anxious parents, especially as the doctors had given the boy only a 50-50 chance of survival.

"It is a long and complicated surgery. It will depend on the state of the heart and on the baby's strength," said the head surgeon, Issam El-Rassi, before the operation.

"It seemed like an eternity," recalled Jihane. "A few days after the surgery, when the danger was gone, I heard his voice for the first time. He even smiled at us and I heard his first laugh," the elated mother added.

With the operation a success, UNHCR staff were also delighted. "I have a mixed feeling of pride and self-satisfaction," said Senior Community Services Clerk Marie Akiki. "We proved once again UNHCR's commitment and dedication. We went through this with the parents day-by-day."

A tearful Jihane, holding her son tightly, said she was eternally thankful to all those who had helped to give them and their son a future. "We have no words to express our gratitude," she said.

When she became pregnant soon after getting married, Jihane said "I felt that my whole life was taking a new turn." Things, however, soon went downhill in her life. Today, although the future remains unclear, Jihane and Nizar have something to live for - and Ahmed gets, quite simply, to live.

There are an estimated 50,000 Iraqis in Lebanon, of whom 9,234 were registered as refugees with UNHCR by the end of February. A growing number of refugees approaching UNHCR in Lebanon are in need of medical assistance. Last year, the agency helped almost 800 people receive in-patient medical care and provided out-patient services to around 4,800 people.

* Names changed for protection reasons.

By Laure Chedrawi in Beirut, Lebanon