New Jersey Soldier and Egyptian Surgeon Help Save Afghan Boy
Muslam Hagigshah is going home.
He is going home to Afghanistan - to resume a childhood that many never thought he could have.
It’s the little things really. He’ll most likely play cricket and eat black beans. He will probably embrace his mother and roughhouse with other boys.
These seemingly simple, everyday things were not possible two years ago and are only possible now because of a chance encounter with a U.S. solider from Mays Landing and a pair of complicated surgeries 7,000 miles from his home.
An American soldier and an Egyptian surgeon changing the life of an Afghan boy in New Jersey.
Muslam, 8, was born with a rare condition that caused his bladder to form outside his body. His genitals did not develop.
For the first six years of his life, he waddled around Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, unable to come into contact with anyone or even wear pants because of the pain from his exposed bladder.
“I was very impressed that he could handle this for six years,” said Moneer Hanna, a pediatric urologist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, who operated on the boy. “It has to be incredibly painful. Thank God Mother Nature does not make this mistake too often.”
It’s called bladder exstrophy and affects about one in 30,000 live births, Hanna said. It is not known what causes the disorder.
Hanna performed two surgeries - each about 5 hours long - to repair Muslam’s abdominal wall, reconstruct his penis and rebuild the muscles to provide bladder control.
Hanna, born in Cairo, has performed dozens of these types of surgeries but most are on babies.
It is rare that a boy living in a place without regular access to clean, running water could make it to 6-years old without developing serious or life-threatening infections.
The Star-Ledger first reported on Muslam in 2011 after his second surgery.
He is now expected to make a full recovery and could even father children some day, Hanna said.
Hanna was one of several to receive the Seven Seals Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an office at the Department of Defense that promotes cooperation between service members and civilians. The ceremony took place at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ.
Also awarded were Missy Oplinger, who hosted Muslam while he was in New Jersey for the better part of the last two years, John Bonamo, President and CEO of Saint Barnabas Medical Center, and Pamela DePompo, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Healing the Children.
Muslam said he was scared when he first met U.S. Army Maj. Glenn Battschinger but soon warmed up to the New Jersey solider after the two played some board games in his Jalalabad home. Battschinger was assigned to 404th Civil Affairs Battalion. These are men and women who work with local authorities to bring stability to different parts of the world.
Battschinger was leaving a meeting when he first saw Muslam’s mother. She showed the soldier her little boy. He was naked below the waist, his hands covering his groin.
Battschinger told The Star-Ledger in 2011 that when he saw Muslam he knew he could not just walk away.
He reached out to Healing the Children, a non-profit that links medically needy children from around the world with doctors who can help.
“We are very gratified when someone like Major Glenn reaches out to us,” DePompo said. “We are so appreciative of the opportunity to change his life and send him back home to his family."
The organization, which since 1979 has worked with nearly a quarter-million kids in 95 countries, contacted Hanna who said he has performed these types of surgeries around the world.
“This country has been very good to me and I like to give back,” Hanna said. “My biggest reward is to see him doing well.”
Reprinted from NJ.com.