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Iraq Transition

Baby Noor 'responsive and smiling'

Initial examination positive; surgery should come in next 10 days

Noor is carried through the Atlanta airport, where an ambulance was waiting to take her to a hospital.



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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Baby Noor, a 3-month-old Iraqi girl in need of urgent surgery to treat a dangerous birth defect, is in good condition and will undergo her operation within the next 10 days, according to a Saturday statement from the hospital where she's being treated.

The girl arrived earlier at the Atlanta airport, where an ambulance was waiting to take her to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. After an initial examination, the hospital released a statement saying Noor is "responsive and smiling, and seemingly resting comfortably."

"She will remain in Children's for further evaluation and for consultations with specialty physicians to determine her future medical needs and course of action," the statement said.

Noor was accompanied by her father and grandmother on the trip from Iraq to Kuwait, then to the United States. They arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport about 4 p.m. ET.

Dr. Roger Hudgins, the chief of neurosurgery at Children's, has promised to perform the operation to help treat Noor's spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal column fails to completely close during prenatal stages. (Watch Hudgins explain the procedure -- 5:18)

Iraqi doctors had told her parents she would live only 45 days, but Noor defied those odds.

However, the surgery will be a tricky one. At a news conference Saturday, Hudgins said the surgery will be complicated because skin has already grown over Noor's exposed spinal column. This has helped prevent infection -- which could kill Noor -- but it will make the surgery more tedious.

The surgery is typically performed -- in the United States -- just after birth while the spinal column is exposed, said Hudgins, who has performed this type of surgery on two children, including an 8-year-old.

"Most pediatric neurosurgeons don't have the opportunity to do a delayed case like this," he said. "This just doesn't happen in our country anymore."

The surgery is scheduled for January 9, pending the doctor's evaluation, but regardless of the evaluation, the operation will have to take place soon.

"We need to get the back closed," Hudgins said. "The concern here is meningitis. If the baby gets an infection on the back, that infection can spread to the coverings all over the brain and the baby may die, so time is of the essence."

Noor and her family could be in the United States for as long as two months for her recovery. The family will stay with a host family.

Noor's journey began when Georgia National Guard members raided her family's home in Baghdad looking for weapons. As Noor's parents nervously watched the soldiers searching their home, the girl's grandmother -- unfazed -- thrust Noor at the Americans, showing them a purple pouch protruding from her back. (Watch Noor steal the guardsmen's hearts -- 2:11)

"I saw this child as the first-born child of the young mother and father, and really, all I could think of was my five children back at home and my young daughter," Lt. Jeff Morgan said. "And I knew if I had the opportunity whatsoever to save my daughter's life, I would do everything possible."

So the guardsmen began devising a plan to get Noor the help she needs, first by visiting the family under the cover of night so the family wouldn't be punished by insurgents for speaking to American soldiers.

They sneaked Noor to a U.S. military base for medical examinations and called American charities and their own friends back home to solicit help for the little girl. Even Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, got involved, working to expedite the family's visas.

Spina bifida, which can cause crippling effects and neurological damage, is the most common of the birth defects known as neural tube defects, which affect about 1,500 to 2,000 babies born in the United States each year, according to the March of Dimes.

About 70,000 people in the United States are living with spina bifida, according to the Spina Bifida Association.

Dr. Hudgins said that while the surgery will probably help baby Noor, there's no guarantee that it will cure her condition. But once it's successfully completed, he said, "then we can work on the quality of life."

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