Story and photo by Spc. Breanne Pye
1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP NATHAN SMITH, Afghanistan – Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are helping a local Afghan family by providing treatment for their 6-month-old son, Rafi, who suffers from a rare heart condition, at the Camp Nathan Smith Medical Aid Clinic.
The family came to the clinic because the local community lacked the resources needed to treat Rafi, who was having trouble breathing on top of a severe heart murmur, said Maj. Jennifer LaBahn, officer in charge of the Camp Nathan Smith Medical Aid Clinic, attached to Company C, 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div.
Despite working in a small clinic and having little experience in pediatric care or equipment to treat a small infant, clinic doctors and physician assistants immediately provided aid, giving supplemental oxygen to Rafi to help him breathe. They also gave him antibiotics to combat an infection that was complicating his existing heart condition.
LaBahn, a pediatric physician, explained that Rafi suffers from a condition called transposition of the great arteries, a congenital heart defect that occurs when the large vessels that take the blood away from the heart, to the lungs or to the body, are improperly connected.
Though Rafi is receiving the best aid “Raider”medics have to offer, he needs cardiothoracic surgery to correct his heart condition, said LaBahn.
Cardiothoracic surgeons are plentiful in the U.S., but there are very few in Afghanistan who are able to perform the surgery.
While they work to find the resources necessary to get Rafi into life-saving surgery, the physicians of “Raider” Brigade are doing everything in their power to keep him comfortable and happy.
Capt. Christopher Alden, physician assistant at the CNS Medical Aid Clinic, assigned to 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div., built Rafi a crib to sleep in, complete with a hand-made, light stick and splint mobile to keep him entertained while he undergoes treatment.
“When I saw Rafi, I just thought about my own two young kids back home,” said Alden. “I have no experience to help him medically, but I thought about what makes my kids smile and laugh and knew I had to do what I could to give Rafi the same thing I would give them.”
Through this whole process, Rafi has brought his own bit of magic to the team of medics working in the aid station, said LaBahn.
“Though most of them didn’t have much experience dealing with small children, all the medics have pulled together to research and train up for future pediatric care,” she said.
“This experience has really fostered a sense of family around here,” said LaBahn. “The medics have all stayed through the night to look in on Rafi, taking turns feeding him, talking to him and rocking him to sleep.”
Raider physicians are working with medical authorities in Kabul to find a relief organization willing to donate the funds needed to perform Rafi’s surgery at the Afghan children’s hospital in Kabul.