BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Afghan baby boy Ramazan had an incredibly bleak future for most of his short life.
Not even a year old, the infant was hanging on by a thread, unable to eat normally due to a congenital defect that left an opening in the palate of his mouth. Finally, in late January, he was brought by his father to a Special Operations Forces clinic in the Shindand district, Herat province.
Ramazan’s family had new reason to hope as the Shindand troops took over care of the then 6-month-old infant.
The clinic staff in Shindand developed a special bottle to help feed Ramazan, but he was still not getting enough nourishment. The clinic decided to have the baby and his father flown to Bagram Airfield for a more in-depth evaluation.
“We couldn’t turn our back on Ramazan’s condition, knowing he would die before the age of 5 without specialized medical attention. Our caring for this baby can also have a critical impact on the people of this area. Our true dedication and commitment to the people of Afghanistan is evident,” said Army Maj. Mike Tarpey, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan surgeon.
At the hospital, Coalition doctors discovered Ramazan had Pierre Robin Sequence, a congenital condition leaving him with an abnormally small jaw, an oversized tongue and a cleft palate, or incomplete closure in the roof of his mouth. Tarpey worked in conjunction with Coalition doctors to arrange an operation for the baby.
“Ramazan had surgery to repair the cleft palate, but complications arose because he was already so fragile and malnourished,” Tarpey said.
“The baby is still having difficulty breathing and feeding; essentially, he will need prolonged care as he grows into his tongue and jaw, which will need to happen before he can breathe and eat on his own,” Tarpey added. Ramazan currently has a tracheotomy, as well as a feeding tube in his stomach, both of which require advanced levels of care.
After an extended stay at the hospital, Ramazan’s care was turned over to CJSOTF-A medical troops, who have welcomed the baby with open arms. Ramazan’s father, who has five other children under the age of seven, had to return to his home in Shindand district to support the rest of his family.
CJSOTF-A has spearheaded Ramazan’s treatment, but others have also stepped in on behalf of the baby.
“We took Ramazan to the French Institute for Children, a modern state-of-the-art facility in Kabul. Their team, including local Afghan doctors, conducted an evaluation and shared their expertise and knowledge as we discussed different treatment options for the baby,” Tarpey said.
In the meantime, Ramazan, now 7 months old, has found nothing but warmth and affection from the CJSOTF-A medical troops. Caregivers said the wide-eyed baby loves to be held and played with; thankfully, there are always troops on hand to shower him with hugs and kisses.
“Ramazan’s presence here showcases the ‘softer’ side of Special Operations, the side that focuses not on kinetics, but on humanity,” said a medic who helps provide extensive around-the-clock care for the baby.
Although tiny for a baby of his age, Ramazan is alert and curious with the world around him. He takes forward strides little by little, most recently by holding his head up on his own, the medic said.
Hopefully in the near future Ramazan will be healthy enough to be reunited with his family in Shindand.
For now, the medical staff and many other CJSOTF-A troops are more than happy to have Ramazan in their lives. The sweet-natured baby boy is frequently visited by other people around the camp.
“I’d say we’re all rather fond of the little guy … he never goes without attention, that’s for sure,” the medic said.