|Nine-year-old Djamshid Djan Popal from his hospital bed in Kabul. (CP/Stephen Thorne)|
KABUL -- A Canadian medic will accompany an Afghan boy and his father on Canada Day to Ottawa, where child cardiac specialists hope to perform life-saving surgery on his defective heart.
Nine-year-old Djamshid Djan Popal was in Attaturk Children's Hospital in Kabul on Friday, where Afghan doctors were doing their best with limited resources to keep him stable and prepare him for the trip of his life.
Canadian physicians have given the boy between one and two months to live without procedures to correct a congenital heart defect that is not fixable in his native country.
"I had given up hope," said his grateful father, Shafiullah Djan Popal, a farmer from an isolated mountain village about a three-hour drive northeast of Kabul, the capital.
"The doctors told me a year ago that if he stays in Afghanistan he will die."
And to the Canadian military doctors, the donors, and Saddique Khan of Hamilton, the primary sponsor of the trip whom he has never met, Popal added: "I don't know how to thank you. I don't know how to respond to the honour you have done me."
Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, or CHEO, have volunteered to run diagnostic tests and, if able, perform the necessary procedures to correct the problem that has been slowly draining the boy's life away.
Khan, a Pakistani-Canadian who was awarded his citizenship less than three years ago, has put up a significant amount of his own money and rallied the Muslim community in Hamilton behind Djamshid's cause.
Khan and others will pay the airfares, the father's room and board and Djamshid's remaining hospital bills - as much as $3,600 a day.
Capt. Americo Rodrigues, a Canadian army doctor from Toronto, discovered Djamshid's plight during at a daylong clinic he set up last month in the boy's village of Mohla Mahmad Khail.
"If we don't do anything, the boy will die," said Rodrigues. "At least this way we're giving him a chance."
The Attaturk hospital is so ill-equipped that doctors there sent Djamshid's father out this week to scour the city on foot for a 20-cent ampoule of a common diuretic called Lasix.
The boy is believed to have a condition known as patent ductus arteriosus, a birth defect where blood from the left side of the heart circulates back to the right side without taking its normal course through the body.
In Canada, the condition is normally detected and easily corrected during a routine examination within hours of birth, usually with a common anti-inflammatory medication.
Left uncorrected, the heart has to pump twice as much in order for it to provide the body with enough oxygenated blood to survive.
Ultimately the heart is strained and enlarged. It begins to weaken and blood starts pooling in the liver.
Patients suffer high blood pressure in the lungs and swelling of the ankles, followed by heart and liver failure, then death.
The incidence is rare - one in 2,500 North American births - and nine-year-olds with the condition are almost unheard of.
Specialists in Canada who have seen the limited diagnostics that have been done say there are other possible diagnoses, but they can only be determined with the kind of medical technology available in developed countries.
Whatever it is, Djamshid's heart and liver are enlarged, signs that his condition is in its final - and fatal - stages and doctors fear he's already been so damaged that even with medical intervention he may not survive.
Hospitals in Saudi Arabia and Israel offered unconditional help to the child.
A charity at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children called the Herbie Fund, created to finance hardship cases like Djamshid's, refused to accept him without a battery of tests - none of which are available in Afghanistan.
"They basically wanted a 100 per cent guarantee the surgery would be successful," said one source. "That's just not possible."
Sick Kids spokeswoman Lisa Lipkin denied that characterization. "The outcome of surgery would not have any bearing on our decision to care for a child," she said in a telephone interview.
"We were waiting to receive basic medical information to determine whether or not he was well enough to make the journey. The important thing to focus on here is that the child its going to receive the care he needs."
Djamshid's father, who recently sold his primary means of income - his car, his cow and his two goats - to finance his child's ongoing treatment, says he is aware there are no guarantees. But he said he was grateful his son will get a second chance at life.
"Man cannot do anything without the will of God," he said. "This illness was created by God's will and I pray that it is God's will to cure my son."
Donations to a fund to care for Djamshid and his father can be arranged by contacting Saddique Khan at saddique.khanrbc.com
Source: The Canadian Press