Iraq's 'Baby Noor' Heads to U.S. for Care

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An Iraqi infant with a severe birth defect began her journey Friday to the United States, where she will receive medical care at the urging of U.S. soldiers who discovered her during a raid.

Noor al-Zahra, who is 3 months old, and family took off in a military transport plane from Baghdad airport, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. They will fly to Kuwait and then board a commercial flight, said social and medical workers who have arranged for her care.

It is not yet clear how much physicians will be able to do to help her after she gets to Atlanta, said Dr. Roger Hudgins, the pediatric neurosurgeon who agreed to take the case.

U.S. troops discovered the baby three weeks ago during a raid on a house in a poverty-stricken neighborhood west of Baghdad. The soldiers noticed paralysis in her legs and what appeared to be a tumor on her back, said Debbie Stone, a Douglasville social worker.

Stone received an e-mail about it from her friend, Lt. Jeff Morgan, who asked her to see if she could arrange for medical assistance.

Soldiers subsequently learned that the child had spina bifida, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal cord do not close before birth. The "tumor" on the baby's back was actually a fluid-filled sac containing the spinal cord and membranes that are supposed to cover the spinal cord.

Morgan and Stone began working to arrange help in the United States, and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta agreed to treat the child.

Doctors have seen e-mailed photos of Baby Noor and received some medical information, but will need to do a full evaluation before attempting surgery, Hudgins said.

The child has myelomeningocele spina bifida, which is considered the most severe form, Hudgins said.

Baby Noor was given slim chances of survival by her doctors in Iraq, noted Adam Roberts, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church in Douglasville, the church which Stone and Morgan belong to.

The care is to be provided for free, Hudgins said. The surgery and accompanying care would cost $200,000 if it were billed.