MIAMI – Three-year-old Amina can't hear the bombs and bullets that rake through Baghdad. The Iraqi girl has been deaf since birth.
Her family is too poor to pay for advanced surgeries that could restore her hearing, so until recently a soundless life seemed certain.
With the help of the U.S. Army in Iraq and the International Kids Fund, a Miami-based aid group, Amina was flown to the United States on July 30 for a procedure at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Medical Center.
The IKF, which has brought more than 125 children from around the world to Miami for treatments, launched an effort Friday to raise $40,000 to pay for a cochlear implant to be surgically placed in Amina's ear. The device turns sound into electrical impulses that activate the hearing nerve, allowing the deaf to hear.
The journey from Baghdad to the United States began with an e-mail.
A friend of Amina's father in Iraq contacted a friend in the U.S. Eventually, an e-mail reached Col. Warner Anderson, an Army special forces doctor.
Anderson had been in Iraq in 2003 with the 352nd Civil Affairs Command and had made a lot of contacts. While back in the U.S., he started making telephone calls and his wife, Ruth Macias de Anderson, a registered nurse, sent an e-mail to a doctor whom she once worked with in New Mexico.
Dr. Thomas Balkany is now at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine and is chairman of the otolaryngology department that specializes in cochlear implants. He agreed to do the surgery.
"We fully expect her to live a normal life once she goes back to Iraq," Balkany said Friday. "In the midst of all this horrible killing that's going on, (Anderson) and his colleagues have taken time to care about one little deaf girl."
Anderson said it was an easy decision.
"On my end, it was pretty simple. First we had to find out how to go about doing this," Anderson said in a telephone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C. "My approach was we needed a diagnosis first, so I arranged for her to go to an Army hospital in the Green Zone over there."
It was once Saddam Hussein's family hospital, he said.
Amina and her father, Mohammed, then began the journey to Amman, Jordan, to obtain visas, and were flown by IKF on a commercial plane to Miami, where they will stay for a few months until the procedure is complete.
Mohammed, 30, a Baghdad painter, said through an interpreter that he began to see hope "that we might be able to get some help here in the United States."
He said his friend reached out to the U.S. military because "I noticed reaction to my daughter there, that the Americans like children and they like to help them, and they like to provide for their health and safety."
"I am extremely happy that this is happening now," said Mohammed, who didn't want his last name used for fear of retribution once he returns home to Iraq. "I am so grateful ... that my daughter now will hear one day."