ATLANTA – An Iraqi infant brought to the United States for treatment of severe birth defects is "interactive and playful," with good mental function, but will likely wind up using a wheelchair, her doctor said Monday.
Dr. Roger Hudgins, a pediatric neurosurgeon who agreed to take the case, said in interviews on morning news shows that 3-month-old Baby Noor al-Zahra will probably have paralysis or weakness in her legs after surgery.
"It looks at this point as if she's probably not going to be able to walk," he told CBS' "The Early Show." "There's just not that much function in the lower extremities."
The child left Baghdad in a military transport plane Friday, accompanied by her grandmother and father, and arrived in Atlanta on Saturday.
U.S. doctors were sent e-mail photos of the baby and received some medical information, but they still need to do a full evaluation before attempting surgery, Hudgins said.
"Baby Noor has a personality of a six-month-old," he told ABC's "Good Morning America." "She's interactive and playful. It's been a delight. We have very high hopes for her."
U.S. troops discovered the baby three weeks ago during a raid of a house in Abu Ghraib, a poverty-stricken district west of Baghdad. The soldiers noticed paralysis in the baby's legs and what appeared to be a tumor on her back.
They later learned the 3-month-old child had spina bifida, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal cord do not close before birth. The growth on the baby's back was actually a fluid-filled sac containing part of the spinal cord.
"Quality of life is very important, but if we don't get rid of this defect, it will eventually take her life as well," Hudgins said. There is fluid buildup inside her brain and she has trouble emptying her bladder, he said.
Doctors usually operate on spina bifida victims immediately after birth, making this operation unusual, Hudgins said. But the baby's situation was stable, giving doctors enough time to do appropriate studies.
Baby Noor will probably need one or two months in the United States to complete the medical repairs and recovery before returning to Iraq, officials had said earlier.