A Gainesville Marine’s effort last year to help an Iraqi girl generated an extra $5,600 that has now been donated to the hospital that provided her successful open-heart surgery.
Maj. Kevin Jarrard was on active duty in Iraq in 2008 when he discovered the life-threatening heart condition of Amenah Al-Bayati. The child was found to have a hole in her heart and a three-hour operation at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville redirected the blood flow to her lungs.
"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," Dr. Karla Christian said at the time of the surgery. "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."
Jarrard, his wife, Kelly, and their four children went to Nashville in April to present Christian with the money left from the fund for Amenah. Christian and her husband hosted the Jarrards at a dinner at her home. Also on hand was Dr. John Nadeau, a Vanderbilt hypertension specialist and battlefield surgeon who served with Jarrard.
"We had a nice dinner and reflected on what we have seen and done," Jarrard said. "Every single person who was involved in this thing was essential."
He said he was touched by the donations from throughout the country.
"I’ve got a shoe box here with cards from 8-year-old boys in Kentucky, who sent money," he said. "The story touched a lot of people’s hearts and they gave their money. I’m not a crying man, but I got a little choked up. That’s about as good as it gets for a Marine."
By the time Amenah and her mother were ready to come to the U.S., the little girl had become gravely ill.
"When we passed her off at the (Jordanian) border, I wasn’t sure she was going to live," he said. "If she had stayed at home, she wouldn’t have lived another 24 hours."
The little girl and her mother boarded a plane in Amman bound for Chicago. They caught a connecting flight to Nashville, where doctors worked to stabilize her condition and control an infection that postponed her surgery for nearly two weeks.
The girl’s story was reported in media outlets throughout the U.S., generating $30,000 in contributions. Not sure if the money would come, Jarrard at first offered to pay the bill himself.
"The first thing I told Kelly is that if I had to, I would pay for it," he said. "I was committed to helping her and I would have borrowed the money."
The excess funds will be used to fund treatment for others who cannot afford it, he said.
At last report, Amenah was doing just fine.
"The last e-mail has been about two months ago and everything seemed fine," said Jarrard, adding that Haditha, the Iraqi city where he was stationed, was peaceful and seemed on its way to prosperity.