Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Little Boy Who Touched My Heart

This has been a difficult post to begin. I have been thinking about it for the past week. This post is dedicated to a little boy who passed away in a refugee camp in Afghanistan on Friday, April 15. His name was Qudrat Ullah Wardak and he was sixteen months old. When I heard on the local TV news that he had died, I was stunned and very sad. I could not speak for several minutes and tears flowed from my eyes. Even now, as I write this, I am feeling very emotional. I never personally knew this child, and yet I did feel a personal connection to him. I was most certainly not alone in my feelings. Thousands of people in central Indiana undoubtedly felt a similar connection. You see, Qudrat was here, in Indianapolis, for nearly two months, until Wednesday, April 13, when he returned home.

I first heard about Qudrat in late February, when the local news presented the story of the little boy who would be coming from Afghanistan with his father Hakim Gul Wardak. The story discussed how members of a unit of the Indiana National Guard were attending to the health needs of Afghan refugees near their camp when little Qudrat came to their attention. He was very tiny for his age, very weak, and his skin would frequently turn blue. A doctor with the Guard unit was familiar with such symptoms and knew immediately that there was a problem with the baby's heart. The doctor was pretty sure that Qudrat's symptoms were caused by the presence of a hole in the tissue that separated the right and left sides of his heart. Such a defect makes it very difficult for the heart to properly circulate oxygenated blood to the body. Most babies with similar symptoms do not live very long without medical intervention. The doctor knew that Qudrat would require some very specialized open heart surgery. However, there were no heart surgeons in Afghanistan. Fortunately for Qudrat, one of the Guardsmen was a member of The Rotary Club in his community in Indiana. This Club had a program called "The Gift of Life" which had provided funding to give dozens of children from all over the world the opportunity to have life saving medical procedures performed at a hospital in Indianapolis. This Guardsman contacted his Club members in Indiana and they agreed to sponsor the surgery that could save Qudrat's life. Please see this article for more information.

Qudrat and Hakim Wardak shortly after arrival in Indianapolis.

After Qudrat and Hakim arrived in Indianapolis, they were taken to the hospital where Qudrat would be thoroughly evaluated prior to his surgery. When the doctors had a chance to review the scans of Qudrat's heart, it was discovered that his condition was actually much more serious than the original diagnosis in Afghanistan. His tiny heart had several serious defects including a reversal of the major vessels leading away from the heart and a malformed heart chamber and valve (please read this for more information). This would be the most difficult operation that Qudrat's pediatric heart surgeon had ever attempted. He had experience repairing similar defects, but not all together in the same patient. However, despite the potential risks and difficulties, the medical team were confident that they could help Qudrat, and that the chances of his survival were very good. The operation took place and it was completely successful!

Qudrat happy and playful several weeks after surgery.

From the day that Qudrat and his father had arrived from Afghanistan, the local TV stations and newspapers had made the baby's condition and medical treatment a leading story. It was for me a wonderful change from the usual laundry list of crime and tragedy. This was a story with absolutely no moral ambiguity. Here was a tiny baby who would die without the help of many other people. Every day, I was eager for news on his progress. I worried for him before his surgery and I was elated for him that he had not only survived, but that his prognosis was very good. There was a small scare after the surgery when Qudrat and his father were accidently exposed to chicken pox. They were both immediately given a vaccine against the disease and were observed carefully for the next three weeks, however, neither came down with an infection. Meanwhile, Qudrat was doing exceptionally well. He was eating voraciously and was more active than he had ever been. Most importantly, he seemed very happy! So was his father. Hakim had expressed an interest in immigrating to the U.S. (please refer to this article). He was confident that his wife would like to live in America also. The Rotary Club arranged for Hakim to meet with a lawyer who was experienced in helping people to apply for immigration visas. However, Hakim decided that he would not attempt to stay in the U.S. during the application process. He did not want a long separation from his wife. So, as soon as Qudrat's doctors said that it was safe for him to travel, a return trip to Afghanistan was arranged. Hakim and Qudrat returned to something akin to a hero's welcome at the airport in Afghanistan and at the refugee camp. All of Qudrat's relatives wanted to hold him and play with him. Everyone was very happy, especially Qudrat's mother Tajbara (Here is an article about the homecoming). However, early in the morning of the second day of their return something happened that would turn the joy of Qudrat's homecoming to great sorrow. Qudrat awoke crying around 3:00 AM. His parents discovered that Qudrat's heart was beating very fast. They gave him some medicine for pain, that the Indianapolis doctors had prescribed and taught Hakim how to administer, and Qudrat calmed down. But, shortly thereafter, Qudrat stopped breathing. His parents sent for help to the Guard Camp, but by the time several Guard officiers arrived, it was to late and there was nothing that they could do. Qudrat had passed away. A few hours later, when the news of Qudrat's death was given to a group of reporters, who had traveled to Afghanistan to cover his return and follow his progress, they sat in stunned silence for several minutes, many of them openly weeping. Later that day, the news reached Indianapolis, where many more tears were shed for the little boy who had touched so many hearts.

According to the Muslim customs of Qudrat's family there was no autopsy and the boy was buried the same day that he died. No one will ever know why Qudrat died after such a promising initial recovery from surgery. But, I know that I and many others will remember him for a long time. I wish his parents peace, and if it is still their wish to come to America, I hope that they will be able. I think that there are many people in Indiana who are willing to help them, whatever they decide.

Here are two more articles written after Qudrat's death:

BBC NEWS : Afghan heart surgery toddler dies

IndyStar: Qudrat left imprint on reporter

Please note: even if you don't have time to read all the linked articles, they all have more pictures which help to tell Qudrat's story. Thanks for your interest!


Blogger Pantea said...


I am touched by the story. Very sorry for the sad ending. Thanks for taking time and putting this post together. I will give it a link in my blog.

4/24/2005 8:26 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks Pantea, I very much appreciate your comment and link!

4/24/2005 9:42 PM  
Blogger Ameer H. said...

It's very sad that despite all the efforts he didn't make it. Thanks for publishing this story. As you said it's very different than everyday news.

4/24/2005 10:16 PM  
Blogger Jamak said...

A sad story.

4/25/2005 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I don't get emotional often. I try to keep things in perspective, and say that things happen, and the world turns, and people come and go.

But I am not sure I can stop weeping at the moment. I wish you had not written this.

4/25/2005 6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I don't get emotional often. I try to keep things in perspective, and say that things happen, and the world turns, and people come and go.

But I am not sure I can stop weeping at the moment. I wish you had not written this.


4/25/2005 6:30 PM  
Anonymous koozeh said...

I am very sorry David. However, I am very happy that such good people like yourself are present in this world.

I wish his parents peace. By the way, the little boy's name means "power". It goes with the story, doesn't it?

4/25/2005 7:23 PM  
Blogger David said...

Ameer, thanks for your comment and the link that you gave to the post. I really appreciate that.

Jamak, it is indeed sad, but perhaps some hope can come from Qudrat's life and his passing. I have read that Qudrat inspired many donations to the "Gift of Life" fund, enough, I believe, to help several other children.

Khodadad, I know what you mean. I have become hardened too, over the years, but Qudrat really softened my heart, and apparently your's too. Thanks for sharing your emotion.

Koozeh, thank you so much for your kind words. Also, thanks for translating the meaning of Qudrat's name. You are so right, he was indeed a very powerful little boy to touch the hearts of so many!

4/25/2005 10:44 PM  
Blogger Iranian said...

Last year an Afghani boy, Jamshid Jam, who had a serious heart problem was brought to Canada. He had a very difficult surgery and thanks God he survived and he is living in Toronto now. A few weeks ago I heard that Canada is going to send him back to Afghanistan since he haven’t had a full recovery yet, some doctors and his father believe it would be too dangerous for him living in such place without a proper medical care.

4/26/2005 7:34 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Davood, thanks very much for your comment! I certainly hope that Jamshid is able to stay in Canada, at least until he is fully recovered. I have read that the child mortality rate in Afghanistan is very high, in some places, as many as 20 percent of children die. I suspect that lack of clean drinking water may account for many of these childhood deaths. It is really very sad that something as basic as clean water is still not available to many of the world's people.

4/27/2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger maas said...

hi David are you ?...
thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment
i and hnk most of the time took the same marks
keep visiting my blog


4/30/2005 12:30 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Maas,
I am well, thank you. :) I will be happy to visit your blog again. I hope that you will visit mine again also.

5/01/2005 2:49 PM  
Blogger گیلدا said...

I came here a couple of times to leave comments but for some odd reason I had problems with the commenting system.
Yes, I was in a phase of deciding whether to write in Farsi or English! Then I realized that I have to do both:) Thanks for visiting me!

5/01/2005 7:57 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Asemoon,
Thanks for your persistence in trying to comment. I appreciate having you as my guest. :) Sometimes Blogger can be very frustrating! I couldn't comment either a few days ago. I'm glad that you are writing in English again! :)

5/01/2005 10:50 PM  
Blogger payitforward said...

You know, Qudrat's Birthday Is Dec 1st. How are you going to remember him. I know It will be a sad day but I want to make it productive. I will be visiting children at Riley Hospital in his memory. Don't forget the Graham family that took care of him. I hope to speak to them soon.

11/03/2005 7:02 PM  
Blogger The Special Zipper said...

Hi David

I am touched by this story as we have a 3 year old toddler who has undergone complex open heart surgery reconstructing multiple valves and the aortic arch as a 5 day old baby and again at 2 years. We still await further surgery.

This story reminds me of the jubilation we felt and then the shattering when our son went into heart failure and critical condition before being stabilised.

Whilst I have been saddened by the deaths of babies of families we have met in hospitals, I always try to do the positive optimistic thing and look at how many our fantasticly skilled surgeons are able to give life to that 25 years ago just wouldn't have survived.

Anyone interested in reading a bit more about the trials and tribulations of a baby going through open heart surgery can do so at

Thanks for putting together a nice post .. albeit a sad one.

5/12/2006 2:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i cant stop crying this is the first i have read of him and honestly my husband is originally from afghanistan and i feel heartbroken for the father and mother ... but i know that ALLAH will bless them in their pain.. i havent yet read the other articles i dont know if i my heart can face the pain yet..

5/27/2009 12:41 AM  
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