|Deployed medics save Iraqi child|
by Master Sgt. Don Perrien
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
10/5/2004 - TALLIL AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Almost a week later, little Nahida still winces when doctors ask about the snake that bit her foot.
Her father, Nafil Radi, a policeman in the local An Nasiriyah precinct of southern Iraq, sits beside the hospital bed and holds her hand. Gently he coaxes her to point out which type of viper she encountered only a few short nights ago.
The 8-year-old girl now rests comfortably in a bed of the 407th Expeditionary Medical Group here. Doctors believe a blunt-nosed viper bit her as she was tending sheep nearby on her family’s farm.
People who have seen Nahida during the past few days said it is a miracle the girl is still alive.
“I was scared I was going to lose my daughter, that she would die,” Mr. Radi said through an Arabic translator. “After she was bitten, we went to several hospitals, but no one had the medicine to help her. We were troubled, so I took her to my police station. I didn’t know what we were going to do.”
At the police station, someone suggested taking the child to the Americans here. Local citizens said military doctors might be able to help.
When the police car carrying Nahida and her father arrived at the main gate, it was almost midnight. The girl’s leg was swollen up to the knee, and she was crying from the pain. The guards at the gate quickly called the Air Force medics in tent city.
“As soon as we got the call, I put on my body armor and rushed out to the gate,” said Maj. (Dr.) Duncan Hughes, a family physician with the 407th EMDG. “The message had come through a translator, so I didn’t know what to expect other than a child with a snakebite of some type.
“At first, I didn’t think she looked too serious, but then I saw the swelling in her leg,” Dr. Hughes said. “Once I saw that, I couldn’t look her father in the eye and tell him she’d be OK without our help.”
Nahida’s leg had become so swollen that doctors feared she had a condition called compartment syndrome where part of the body, normally a limb, swells to the point of hindering blood flow to the affected region.
In this case, the young girl’s leg was severely enlarged from the knee down. Once doctors moved the young patient into the emergency room, Maj. (Dr.) Greg Schumacher, an orthopedic surgeon with the medical group, was called in to open the leg and prevent the extensive swelling from further harming the little girl.
However, the complications with swelling were not Nahida’s biggest problem. Doctors administered three doses of anti-venom, but they were not having the desired effect. Nahida’s vital signs started to slip.
“We had another anti-venom, but it wasn’t one we were used to working with,” said Maj. (Dr.) Rich Tyson, an internist assigned to the medical group. “The first anti-venom should work for the snakes found in the local area around southern Iraq, but not in this case.”
The second anti-venom was riskier than the first, and the potential side effects more dangerous. The medics conferred with a specialist in Seattle before making the call to administer the second anti-venom. With Nahida’s condition worsening, it was an easy decision.
“I was biting my nails all day, waiting for the (second) anti-venom to work,” Dr. Tyson said. “But by the late afternoon, she began to look better. Her bleeding subsided, and her color returned to near-normal.”
By the weekend, Nahida was speaking to her father, who was staying near his daughter’s bedside. She was also charming the medics who made her toys out of latex surgical gloves and brought her stuffed animals from around the camp.
“In my life, I haven’t seen anything like this,” Mr. Radi said. “Everyone treats my daughter like she’s their daughter. I don’t know what we would have done without these people.
“(When I brought her to the gate), I was 100-percent sure she would die,” he said. “When they saved her life, they did more than that -- they saved (me) too. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”
Doctors said Nahida is recovering nicely and should be able to return home in another few days. Until then, she is the queen of the inpatient ward, smiling and waving to people when they visit.
For the 407th EMDG Airmen, their experience in caring for this child is one they said they will never forget.
“When we deployed, I thought I’d be working with combat injuries and military members, not small children with snakebites,” Dr. Hughes said. “But I’m happy we could help this child, and so is the staff.
“Everyone, from the nurses to the medical technicians, stepped up to help,” he said. “There was never a time when someone wasn’t there watching over this girl. I’m happy she’ll be able to return home to her family.”