It is a beautiful spring day in Kabul. The trees along the driveway to the National Hospital are just turning green. Built by the Russians in the early 1970’s, the building’s faded façade shows almost as many battle scars as its occupants.
My tour begins in the women’s and children’s ward. In the corner, staring wistfully out the window is a little girl who appears to be about ten. I make eye contact with her mother and immediately recognize another mother’s broken heart.
“Zarghona” has a genetic heart condition which requires surgery. There are no facilities that can perform the operation in Afghanistan. She would need to leave the country to be treated. Her parents don’t have the money for such a trip and no government assistance is available. In typical American fashion, I ask, “What’s the next step?” There is none, came the answer.
You can not walk through a city or enter a village in the provinces without being touched by the suffering. Like the famous story of the starfish stranded on the beach, it is difficult to save them all, but perhaps I could save this one.
Working my network…all were sympathetic, most told me it was hopeless. Sometimes life is daunting, but it’s never hopeless. Finally, a plan came together through a French team of pediatric surgeons who worked in Afghanistan one week per month.
With Zarghona’s condition deteriorating every day, we were one week away from her surgery when I was told the cost of the operating room and anesthesia would be $1000, due immediately. There had been no prior notice of any cost. For the first time since finding Zarghona, I cried.
It took only a few hours to raise the money. I was ecstatic, until I spoke to someone who had helped to gain permission from Zarghona’s parents to treat her. He thought it was wonderful that she would live a normal life, because now her family could find a husband for her as soon as she was better.
We had not saved her for such a fate. Working through interpreters, we spoke with her father. Playing a game of “life poker”, I threatened to call off the surgery unless he promised he would not marry her off until at least her sixteenth birthday.
The last time I saw Zarghona, she was fourteen, in school, and doing very well.