27 Nov. 2008
PR# 2008-649

ISAF medics give new hope to young Afghan girl

Zabul Governor Delbar Jan Arman greets 9-year-old Toor Pekai and her grandfather, Malik Khan, after their trip from Kandahar Air Field. An ISAF team of medics recently removed an enlarged tumour from the child’s face.

KABUL, Afghanistan — ISAF medical personnel recently came together to save the life of a nine-year-old Afghan child.

Toor Pekai has lived with a benign tumour on her face for nearly five years. Benign or not, the tumour grew to impede her speech and ability to eat solid foods.

Jordanian Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Mamoun Al-Basheer and a team of doctors worked tirelessly through a six-hour operation to remove a significant portion of the tumour. Al-Basheer is the director of Eagle 27, the Jordanian medical mission to Afghanistan based in Zabul.

He learned about Toor Pekai in early October from U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Mark Hubner, the senior medical advisor on ISAF’s Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team. Al-Basheer had been in country for one week.

“I accompanied her from [Forward Operating Base] Lagman and took her to [Kandahar Airfield] where I, a British surgeon and his assistant formed a team that operated on Toor Pekai,” he said. “We restored, hopefully, the functional elements in her face ..., and she can eat and drink again.”

The surgical team took six hours to remove the tumour on Toor Pekai’s face. The growth was an unusual type of tumour called fibrous dysplasia. These tumours tend to be benign and slow growing.

“Although benign in nature, slow-progressing tumours that are not treated can grow to obstruct eating and breathing,” Al-Basheer said. “So, yes, this could have killed her. I couldn’t be happier for Toor Pekai. She’s a cheerful, lovely girl. There is nothing more satisfying to a physician than doing something that impacts a patient’s life to a great degree. It’s not just prolonging her life as a little girl; it’s giving her a new opportunity with an improved quality of life.”

The Zabul PRT had to weigh the options before deciding on surgery for Toor Pekai.

“It is an ethical dilemma,” Hubner said. “Does one spend $1 million on a single case that is dramatic and pulls at our heart strings while at the same time hundreds of children are dying of diarrhoea or starvation? Diarrhoea is not dramatic. Yet that mother mourns the loss of her child just as much the mother of the ‘dramatic’ situation.

“In this case, we struggled with what would be the best balance,” he added. “Just because we could not do everything does not mean we should not do anything. Previous cases around Afghanistan show that taking a single patient and sending him back to the U.S., Europe or Canada for dramatic surgery rarely works out for the best — there is often no follow up capability in rural areas.

“We were very happy to learn that there were resources as close as [Kandahar Airfield] to help this girl,” Hubner said. “This was multi-national and multi-organizational cooperation at its best. And as a bonus, when she needs future surgery in a few years, the [Afghan National Army] ear, nose and throat surgeon will be able to do it.”

Contact Information ISAF Public Affairs Office
Tel: +93 (0)799 51 1155 - Mobile: 0093 (0) 799 55 8291 pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int - www.nato.int/isaf/