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2-year-old Iraqi girl improves following surgery
Maha Mohammed Al-Sumaidaie, Amenah’s mother, reacts to news that her daughter’s surgery was successful. Kelly Jarrard, right, sits by her side at the surgical waiting area at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. - photo by Neil Brake
A 2-year-old Iraqi girl who underwent open-heart surgery Monday has shown improvement in a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.

Amenah Al-Bayati, whose life-threatening plight drew the attention of a Gainesville Marine, has been removed from a ventilator and continues her recovery in an intensive care unit.

Maj. Kevin Jarrard of Gainesville, who is serving his second tour in Iraq, began the effort to bring the little girl and her mother to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, where her care has been provided without cost.

The child was found to have a hole in her heart and a three-hour operation redirected blood flow to her lungs. Both her mother and doctors have noted the improvement in her skin color. Before the surgery, the lack of oxygen had caused her lips and extremities to appear blue.

"It went as well as we could have hoped it to," Karla Christian, a pediatric heart surgeon, said of the surgery. "There were no complications, and although it was a technically complex surgery, she did just great."

When asked about her prognosis, Christian predicted no need for additional surgery.

"This is a rare condition, and we chose the operation that was best for her, keeping in mind that when she returns to Iraq, she will not have access to a cardiologist," Christian said. "We decided to do an operation that would improve her oxygenation, but would leave her heart functioning as a single pumping chamber that she has been living with since birth. We would expect, if all goes well, that she will need no further operation. The best part is she has gone from oxygenation levels in the 60s or lower to up in the 90s."

Jarrard’s wife, Kelly, was in Nashville Monday for the surgery. She said she was amazed at the visible improvements in Amenah’s condition.

"It was wonderful to see her as she looks like a different child," Kelly Jarrard said, adding that the child was in some pain following the surgery. "Today (Tuesday) may be her most difficult day."

The child and her mother, Maha Mohammed Al-Sumaidaie, came to the U.S. in January after being taken out of Iraq by helicopter. They were shuttled to Amman, Jordan, where they boarded a flight to Chicago and on to Nashville.

Upon arrival, doctors found the child with multiple infections and had to wait nearly two weeks before she was well enough for the operation.

Kelly Jarrard said she has spoken with her husband since the surgery.

"He really wishes he could be there," she said.

A hospital spokeswoman said Amenah may be able to leave the hospital as early as this weekend to return to the home of a host family in a Nashville suburb. The child and her mother are expected to remain in Tennessee for a month to make sure she has fully recovered before returning to Iraq.

An additional $10,000 is needed to defray the costs of air travel for the girl, her mother and a interpreter to return to Iraq. Donations are being accepted into an account at any branch of BB&T Bank.