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Iraq: Czech Heart Operations Bring Hope To Ill Children

By Petr Kubalek and Kathleen Moore Four Iraqi children are currently in the Czech capital, Prague, for heart surgery. They're the latest group of children flown from the south of Iraq to the Czech Republic for much-needed treatment.

Prague, 22 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Twelve-year-old Ali Muhammad sings a song from his bed in Prague's Motol hospital.

He's recovering from a heart operation at the hospital -- an operation he badly needed, as his father explains: "I had to take him [to school] by car because he could not walk more than 50 meters. Cyanosis [blue color from lack of oxygen] would immediately appear on his lips, and he would start suffocating."

Ali is one of four Iraqi children at Motol who have been flown in from the southern city of Al-Basrah, where the Czechs have a military police contingent training Iraqi police. They're the latest group of Iraqi children to benefit from a Czech program begun last year.

Doctor Jan Skrovanek says all four children have serious heart defects. "Both these defects, if they weren't treated, would worsen and end in the death of the patients," he says. "Three of the children have undergone operations. They were all successful, and the children are now convalescing and will be able to be transferred to the Ricany convalescence home. The fourth child had complications because of a long-term inflammation in his middle ear. He had an operation in our ear, nose, and throat clinic to treat the inflammation, and we think that in about 10 days he'll be able to undergo a heart operation, too."

Another small patient at Motol is 18-month-old Tabarak. Tabarak's father says the girl's 12-year-old sister Zaynab suffers from the same defect. "At the beginning, we had these worries with [our eldest daughter] Zaynab," he says. "As soon as Zaynab got bigger, we saw the same symptoms in [her younger sister] Tabarak. The symptoms were suffocation, a very heavy heart pulse and breath, and cyanosis on her lips and fingers."

Doctors at Motol have now operated on 13 Iraqi children since last year. But Skrovanek says the plan is to make better treatment possible in Iraq itself.

"In Iraq, at least near Basra, we don't know of any children's cardiologists. [But] we hope that these children will be monitored [later on] by children's doctors. [So] that was one of the reasons why we decided not just to operate on some 13 children, but also -- in cooperation with the Interior Ministry and the Red Cross -- we proposed a [further] project. The idea is to train children's cardiologists in our center and then give money to buy modern equipment that will make it possible for the children to get better, more specialized, care," Skrovanek says.

For now, Motol's doctors are providing that specialist care -- for a few children, at least.

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]

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