NEW YORK – Growing up in the slums of Kabul and suffering from a life-threatening heart defect, 11-year-old Vasila Hossaini (search) feared time for her was running out. That was last year. Today, she's full of energy, soaking up the atmosphere of New York after donations brought her from Afghanistan (search) and helped pay for lifesaving heart surgery.
"I got a new life," Vasila said Wednesday. "I am not going to die."
At a gathering with some of her benefactors at an apartment, Vasila said she's thrilled she can now walk, dance and play without the pain and fatigue that once made her feel doomed.
The hopelessness began to fade when Vasila was discovered in Kabul by two independent filmmakers from the United States, Stacia Teele and Ed Robbins.
They saw Vasila as exceptionally spirited and talented when they met her at an international educational project called the Mobile Mini Circus for Children (search), which entertains and educates traumatized children through performances, workshops and training.
Vasila's performances there as a singer and dancer despite her crippling ailment inspired Teele and Robbins to make the documentary "Vasila's Heart," which was broadcast on ABC's "Nightline" in March. Donations poured in to Project Kids Worldwide, which raised $35,000 needed for Vasila's trip and the operation.
Her heart defect, which allowed unoxygenated blood to circulate through her body, was corrected surgically on May 17.
"I am so happy she is rescued now. I know she'll live," said Vasila's father, Arman Hossaini, 39, who accompanied her to New York.
After being hosted in New York by Teele and members of the Afghan-American community, the father and daughter are to return home on June 21, back to their single-room home in a war-scarred building that they share with a half-dozen other impoverished families.
"But after saving a life, you are responsible for that life," said Teele, who is now trying to raise more money to enable Arman Hossaini, now unemployed, to start a small business back in Kabul.
If all goes well, "we could have enough money to be able to move to a better part of Kabul that actually has a school," said Arman Hossaini.
Vasila's plans are more ambitious.
"I want to become a doctor, a heart surgeon," she said. "Good people have helped me and I want to help others when I grow up."