Fatima, a one-year-old girl from southeastern Iraq, suffered third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body after a gas explosion. The blast left most of her face and torso disfigured, preventing her from using her hands for many day-to-day activities.
Members of the Dartmouth community are now working with Hope.MD, a non-profit founded by U.S. Army physician and Capt. Jon Heavey ’97 in 2007, to bring Fatima to the Upper Valley for reconstructive surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Hope.MD works to connect Iraqi and Afghani children in need of medical care with specialists and hospitals around the world.
Heavy contacted DHMC executive medical director John Butterly and pediatric plastic surgeon Mitchell Stotland over a year and a half ago to see whether they would be interested in helping an Iraqi child, Stotland said. Hope.MD decided in February 2009 to bring Fatima to the United States for the procedure.
“I said, Of course I’m interested,'” Stotland said. “Pediatric reconstructive surgery is what I do.”
Heavey, who is currently on active duty, could not comment for this article per Army regulations.
DHMC will help pay for the cost of Fatima’s operations, and medical equipment manufacturers will provide the relevant surgical supplies free of charge, Stotland said.
Stotland said he heard on Wednesday that the family’s visa application was approved, so Fatima will arrive in the United States in the next few weeks. The operation will likely take place this summer, and follow-up treatment will take at least six months, Stotland said.
Hope.MD requested that Fatima’s last name and her mother’s name not be disclosed due to concerns about their safety in Iraq.
Heavey, who served as student body president as an undergraduate, also contacted Linda Kennedy, assistant dean of student life, to ask whether members of the Dartmouth community could provide social support or help find housing for Fatima and her mother.
“I knew Jon when he was an undergraduate here,” Kennedy said. “He has an interesting story because he was a transfer student, and when he transferred, he just fell for Dartmouth. I think he is a very competent, bright and obviously a very big-hearted person.”
Kennedy enlisted Rabbi Edward Boraz of Dartmouth Hillel to help find an Arabic-speaking family in the Upper Valley willing to host Fatima and her mother.
Former Student Body Vice President Nafeesa Remtilla ’09 contacted campus organizations to help raise funds. In response, Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity raised several hundred dollars for Hope.MD at a charity barbecue, Remtilla said.
“I think this is a really beautiful story of community,” Kennedy said. “Many of those involved are Jewish, and the family is Muslim, so it really is a beautiful coming together at Dartmouth for this one little girl.”
Heavey said in an interview with The Washington Post that he was inspired to start Hope.MD after being deployed to Baghdad.
Doctors there told Heavey about a two-year-old boy in the city with a heart ailment who could not receive the care he needed, according to The Post.
“There were no options for children who needed medical care because there were no non-profits left,” Hope.MD spokesperson Tristan Burton said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “The Red Cross and everybody else had pulled out.”
Heavey, who is an emergency room physician at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he is not deployed abroad, sent the child’s medical records to a doctor at the University of Virginia, who agreed to treat the boy for free, The Post reported. Heavey helped the boy and a female guardian apply for visas to the United States, but the boy died before he could receive treatment, according to The Post.
Heavey subsequently decided to form Hope.MD with fellow Army captain and medic John Knight.
“[Heavey] has young kids,” Burton said. “So when he is over there, he identifies with the fact that the kids there need medical help. He is thinking, What if it was my child? If it were my child I would want him to get help.'”
Heavey and Knight initially had difficulty finding donors, Burton said, and paid for most of the initial costs themselves or asked friends and family for contributions.
The organization has also solicited donations from defense contractors and oil companies that operate in Iraq, Burton said, but none of the corporations have responded.