Just over a year ago, little Nazia, then 1 year old, was playing in her home in Afghanistan. She swallowed a small battery, and she has been fighting for her life ever since. In April she was brought to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for specialized airway reconstruction surgery.
Nazia’s family realized something was very wrong with their little girl when she suddenly began to have trouble swallowing. She had stopped eating and seemed to be having trouble breathing. What they didn't know was that a battery Nazia had swallowed a few days earlier was slowly eating away at her throat and airway. From their tiny hut in a remote village in northern Afghanistan, Nazia’s family set out to find help. They took Nazia to Paktia Regional Hospital. She was then flown to Craig Joint Theater Hospital, an American military hospital in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where doctors discovered that the battery had caused extensive damage to her esophagus, airway and vocal cords.
Military doctors went to work to repair Nazia’s esophagus and airway using procedures developed by Robin T. Cotton, MD, director of the Division of Otolaryngology/ Head and Neck Surgery at Cincinnati Children’s, and his team. However, scarring had left her airway narrowed to the size of a pencil lead and she could not move air in and out of her lungs on her own. She had to have a tracheostomy – the insertion of a tube directly into her trachea – in order to breathe. A breathing tube requires routine care and suctioning to remain effective, which is challenging even in the best of circumstances. For Nazia’s family – living in a war-torn country with a very dry and dusty environment – it was nearly impossible for them to keep Nazia’s condition stable.
After returning to the military hospital several times with pneumonia and other health issues, Nazia became a permanent resident of the hospital in October 2008.
“The team has come to think of her like one of their own children,” said Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Robert Elwood, chief of pediatrics at Craig Joint Theatre Hospital, in an American Forces press release April 9.
“She is a very special little girl, and we’ve been very fortunate to have her,” Elwood added.
Nazia’s Journey Leads to Cincinnati Children’s
Nazia’s story was brought to the attention of the specialists at Cincinnati Children’s, who are world-renowned for their airway reconstruction work. Cincinnati Children’s offered to care for Nazia, providing her the surgery and post-operative care she needed free of charge.
“I was very compelled to help this little girl as soon as I heard the story,” says Ravindhra G. Elluru, MD, PhD, the surgeon who cared for Nazia at Cincinnati Children's. “From what I’d heard about her, she was a bright and cheerful baby who had essentially grown up in the military hospital in Bagram."
Using donated frequent flier miles, Delta Airlines, which has a hub in Cincinnati, transported Nazia and her family to Cincinnati Children’s in April. Cincinnati Children’s is the worldwide leader in performing pediatric airway reconstructions. Our team of world-class surgeons performs approximately 150 surgeries each year – more than three times the number of open pediatric airway reconstructions than any other medical facility in the world.
Once Nazia arrived, a multidisciplinary team including gastroenterology, pulmonary and ear, nose and throat specialists collaborated to provide her and her family the best possible care.
"The doctors at Bagram had done a wonderful job taking care of her in the middle of nowhere," Dr. Elluru says," (but) she would not have survived long with the tracheostomy.”
Nazia had surgery at Cincinnati Children's, which successfully reconstructed her trachea. Her breathing tube has been removed and her airway is healing well. She is now breathing on her own and beginning to talk.
The battery, however, badly damaged the nerves Nazia needs to swallow. This causes her to aspirate liquids into her lungs when she tries to swallow. As a result, she has been given a G-tube for feeding, which could remain with her long term, perhaps even permanently. A G-tube provides liquid (formula) nutrition directly into Nazia’s stomach. Nazia will have to continue formula feeding when she returns to Afghanistan.
Hope for a Safe and Healthy Future
Nazia and her family hope to find a new home closer to Kabul upon returning to their homeland so they will be closer to a main hospital and better care for Nazia. And the caregivers who have gotten to know this little girl and her family are wishing them only the best.
“Nazia represents a symbol of human compassion and kindness,” Dr. Elluru says. “She was living in an area of the world in which hatred prevailed, but somehow she has managed to bring people of all religions and backgrounds together to work towards a common goal of giving and caring.”
You Can Help
The care Nazia has received at Cincinnati Children’s was made possible in part by the generous support of so many individuals who contributed to Nazia’s Fund at Cincinnati Children’s to help pay for her medical and travel expenses.
You can support other children and families in need with a contribution to the Cincinnati Children’s Charitable Care Fund. As an international referral site for children in need of expert care around the globe, Cincinnati Children's regularly receives requests for international charity care. Your generosity helps us set aside support for the most urgent of these requests. Gifts to the Charitable Care Fund also help ensure that all children in the Greater Cincinnati area receive the quality health care they need, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
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