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New heart procedure saves Palestinian child

Falastin Ali
Falastin Ali , a 2-year-old Palestinian girl, was brought to Washington, D.C., for cardiac surgery.  

By Kathleen Koch
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Falastin Ali often struggled for breath, feeling sick and weak. Her fingers and lips even turned blue. The 2-year-old Palestinian girl had a hole in her heart.

She visited the hospital several times but, at home on the West Bank, hopes for a cure were distant. Simply going to the hospital for treatment was an ordeal.

"Back home, there is war," said Karima Ali, Falastin's mother. "There is no security. There is no freedom ... It's just random if I ever make it to the hospital or not."

Falastin was the first Palestinian child to be brought by four humanitarian groups to Washington, D.C. for cardiac surgery.

The Palestine Children's Relief Fund, Save a Child's Heart Foundation, Larry King Cardiac Foundation and Rotary Gift of Life stated there were more sick Palestinian children than they could help locally.

"In the West Bank, in Gaza, in Palestine, there is no local pediatric cardiac surgery team," explained Steve Sosebee, president of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. "So she was very lucky given the fact that there are hundreds of other children like her who are not going to get the same chance for treatment."

Doctors at the Children's National Medical Center in D.C. said the chances of a successful operation for Falastin seemed good.

A catheter traveled through a vein and into the heart. Wire disks then expanded inside the heart to fill the hole.  

Doctors planned to use a new, less-invasive procedure. A catheter would be inserted in a vein, and go through the hole in her heart. Wire disks would then expand inside the heart to fill the gap.

However, doctors admitted they were pushing the limits by trying this procedure on such a young child, given that she was so small and that the hole in her heart was so large. The hole was nearly the size of a U.S. quarter in a heart only as big as a lemon.

"We're not absolutely certain her defect is going to be closeable with the device," said Dr. Michael Slack, an "interventional" cardiologist. "There are other things around, inside the heart, that the edges of the device could actually interfere with valves, other veins coming into the chamber."

Yet, after three tries, the device was in place. The operation was a success and the Palestinian girl recovered well. Doctors said her heart should now develop normally.

The healthy 2-year-old is free to return to Ramallah with a new lease on life.




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