Surgery begins for Iraqi baby with spinal birth defect

Monday, January 9th 2006, 9:55 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The first of a series of operations started Monday for Baby Noor, an Iraqi infant who has severe birth defects of the spine.

The surgery for 3-month-old Noor al-Zahra was expected to last several hours, said Kevin McClelland, spokesman for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Because of security concerns, hospital officials said they would not release details of the infant's condition until the surgery is completed.

Baby Noor has spina bifida, in which the backbone and spinal cord do not close before birth. In Monday's surgery, doctors planned to place her spinal cord in its proper place down the center of the back and cover it with muscle and other tissue.

While doctors have been optimistic about the surgery, they have said they are worried about how well the girl will be monitored for complications after she returns to Iraq later this year. And even if the operations are a success, doctors predict she will need to use a wheelchair.

Dr. Roger Hudgins, a pediatric neurosurgeon who agreed to take the case, said the baby would have died without medical intervention. With surgery, her chances of survival are good, he said.

Children's Healthcare is providing treatment for free. The surgery and accompanying care would cost about $200,000 if it were billed, officials have said.

Baby Noor was discovered several weeks ago by U.S. troops raiding a house in Abu Ghraib, a poverty-stricken district in Iraq west of Baghdad. The soldiers noticed paralysis in the baby's legs and what appeared to be a tumor on her back.

They later learned the child had spina bifida, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal cord do not close before birth. The ``tumor'' on the baby's back was actually a fluid-filled sac containing part of the spinal cord and membranes that are supposed to cover the spinal cord.

One of the soldiers, Lt. Jeff Morgan, e-mailed a friend in Douglasville who is a social worker. They enlisted the help of a variety of officials and social service organizations. Through those efforts, Noor, her grandmother and her father were brought to the United States late last month.