American Soldiers Reunite with Iraqi Child

Published: February 27, 2004
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Andrews Air Force Base Saturday evening, February 28, 2004

Washington, DC – Two American soldiers who recently returned to the United States after completing their tours of duty in Iraq will reunite Saturday evening, February 28, 2004, with 12 year old Ma’rwa Ahteemi as she lands at Andrews Air Force Base. Ma’rwa was a patient they cared for after she sustained a spinal cord injury in late November 2003, in an accidental US mortar attack on her home in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.

Ma’rwa is being evacuated for treatment at the National Center for Children’s Rehabilitation, after spending almost three months in an American field hospital in Iraq. Neither the hospital, nor the country was equipped to meet the needs of a child with this type of life threatening injury, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA). NSCIA was contacted on December 22, 2003 by Iowa National Guardsman SFC John Mileham, who is still serving in Iraq. His colleagues, Maj.

Mary Adams-Challenger, an Army Physical Therapist stationed at FT Hood, TX and Maj. Sharnell Hoffer MD, a pediatrician from MN and member of the National Guard joined him in bringing attention to Ma’rwa’s situation and in caring for her in Iraq, and now will join Ma’rwa as she arrives for rehabilitation in the US.

“The first faces Ma’rwa sees will be familiar ones”, said Marcie Roth, Executive Director of NSCIA. “These soldiers were instrumental in conveying to NSCIA the complexity of Ma’rwa’s needs and her potential for recovery. Their presence at her arrival will ease her transition to a very unfamiliar setting. With critical information about Ma’rwa’s situation gained from these soldiers, NSCIA was able to navigate complex international, medical, military, government and immigration systems to facilitate access to appropriate care and rehabilitation. We enlisted the help of SFC Mileham’s senator, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, the Department of Defense, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and Iraqi Ministry of Health as well as expert advice from the US Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security among others,” Roth added.

Ma’rwa, who was paralyzed below the waist, subsequently developed life-threatening pressure sores. She will receive treatment at the newly opened state-of-the-art National Center for Children’s Rehabilitation (NCCR), a joint project of the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) and Children’s National Medical Center. This Center, through its nique “Telerehabilitation” program, provided initial guidance to Maj. Adams-Challenger and Maj. Hoffer via the Internet and satellite teleconferences at the field hospital in Iraq, and will now provide the hands-on rehabilitation that will Ma’rwa maximize her recovery, her health and the quality of her life.

“Despite very difficult circumstances, Ma’rwa’s care began in great hands, and will continue in great hands.” Roth said. “The expertise of knowledgeable professionals and specialized Centers like NCCR enables individuals like Ma’rwa to achieve their highest level of independence, health and personal fulfillment. NSCIA holds high expectations for any person with a spinal cord injury who receives the level of care Ma’rwa is about to receive.”

Roth confirms that Ma’rwa’s situation has elevated awareness of the great need many Iraqis have for adequate rehabilitation. As Iraq undergoes redevelopment of virtually its entire medical and community based service systems, there is a wonderful opportunity to maximize access for Iraqis with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities, she stated. In continuing its mission, NSCIA has galvanized Disability leaders and groups in a “call to action” to provide support to the Iraqi people in the creation of quality systems in that country.

Ma’rwa’s treatment is being provided by NRH and NCCR through private donations. In support of Ma’rwa’s rehabilitation and her future needs for medical supplies and equipment when she returns to her homeland, NSCIA has established a fund, generously supported by Bank of America. It is hoped that this fund can grow through the kindness of the American people.

Donations may be sent to:
National Spinal Cord Injury Assn
PO Box 631002
Baltimore, MD 21263-1002
Information about contributing to this fund can also be found at [url=http://www.spinalcord.org]www.spinalcord.org[/url]

“NSCIA would like to thank Senator Harkin for his incredible daily efforts to make it possible for Ma’rwa to come to the US, the Department of Defense and the many, many military and civilian personnel around the world who helped move this complex process through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines for making it possible to reunite Ma’rwa with Maj. Hoffer and Maj. Adams-Challenger and especially NRH and NCCR for seeing the potential in one child, and the opportunity to help rebuild an entire system”, Roth added.

About the National Spinal Cord Injury Association
NSCIA is the nation’s oldest and largest civilian organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of Americans living with spinal cord injuries and diseases, and the thirty individuals newly-injured each day. NSCIA educates and empowers survivors to achieve and maintain independence, health and personal fulfillment by providing peer support and raising awareness through education, injury prevention, and improvements in medical, rehabilitative and supportive services, research and public policy formulation. NSCIA has chapters and support groups across the US and a Resource Center (www.spinalcord.org) serving thousands of individuals daily.

Note to Editors: Local experts available for interviews in major markets. NSCIA appreciates careful consideration in referring to Ma’rwa and her disability without using terms like crippled, afflicted, suffering from, victim, wheelchair bound and confined to a wheelchair. These terms are outdated and inadvertently offensive. Please refer to page 74 of the AP Stylebook for further assistance.