Coalition doctors remove tumor, save Afghan girl's life

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. Daniel Love
  • Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Public Affairs
On a warm morning in early June, a worried Abdullah Haqim walked with his daughter into the weekly Coalition medical clinic in Farah province, Afghanistan. Six-year-old Gulzana was sick and local Afghan doctors could not diagnose or treat the painful swelling that had engulfed her left eye.

The father watched with a worried expression as a U.S. Special Operations Forces doctor examined the tumor that covered her eye. He was worried because insurgents in the area had warned him that Coalition doctors would not help his daughter and may even hurt her. 

"This wasn't the type of thing we could treat at the weekly clinic," the SOF doctor -- whose name is withheld for security reasons -- said. "Most of our patients here require more basic assistance. Her case required advanced medical care as quickly as we could provide it, so we had to start making plans right away if we were to have a chance of saving her."

Gulzana had an orbital tumor growing from her eye which was expanding to her cheek and eye brow. 

In a developing country such as Afghanistan, a child with such an affliction has an extremely low chance of survival. 

So, soon after the American doctor looked at her, he began coordinating life-saving plans.

"We saw this as a case where we could make a difference in a child's life, so we had to act," the SOF doctor said. "It took some effort, but we arranged for Gulzana and her father to arrive here around the same time as Colonel David Holck, one of the Air Force's two best optical surgeons."

On the morning of July 7, Colonel Holck began his trek from Baghdad, Iraq, to Bagram Air Field in Afghanstan by way of military resupply flights. Colonel Holck is deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where he is chairman of ophthalmology there. 

Throughout the same day, Gulzana and her father, who used a makeshift travel bag made from a bed sheet, travelled 14 hours on a bus to Bagram to meet with the doctor. 

Upon their arrival, Haqim met with Colonel Holck while medics changed Gulzana's bandages. She also received a teddy bear from adoring U.S. troops. 

She also shied away from the attention.

The next day, Colonel Holck and other Coalition doctors performed a CT scan of Gulzana's head to gauge the size and location of the tumor. 

Like most children, Gulzana didn't seem to like being in the hospital, but she was patient and allowed the medical staff at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital on Bagram to examine her and plan the required surgery. 

The tumor had spread from her retina to other parts of her eye, but had not yet affected her skull or brain.

"Based on her scan, we could see that the situation was a little better than we had hoped for," Colonel Holck said. "You can't beat the positive outcome of something like this; all we have to do is our job, but we also get the opportunity to make a difference in a child's life."

On July 9, Gulzana was on an operating table, surrounded by Air Force and Army doctors. The operation lasted two hours, but when it was finished, she looked like a new kid. The tumor that had spread from her eye was gone, and her eyelid could close. She woke up with bandages on her face and with her happy father holding her hand.

Gulzana and her father will temporarily live at Bagram Air Field as she recovers. Her smile, the SOF servicemembers who are monitoring her recovery said, warms their hearts. And now the worried look on her father's face is gone.

"Her mother is gone and she has had enough pain in her life," Haqim said. "I'm happy that the Americans showed so much care for her and that she is getting better. Before, we were so worried, but now everything has changed and she will have a chance to grow up and be happy."

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