The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chennai heart beats for Afghan kids

Chennai, Aug. 24: Zamzama Sakhi, 8, and Zarif Istalifi, 10, have much in common. Robbed of their loving families by the interminable wars in Afghanistan, they had landed in a Kabul orphanage.

Worse, they were found to be suffering from life-threatening congenital cardiac ailments. Now they have got a fresh lease of life, thanks to a surgeon with a big heart and a Chennai medical organisation.

Renowned cardiac surgeon K.M. Cherian and his team carried out open-heart surgeries free on the two children at the Institute of Cardio-Vascular Diseases of the Madras Medical Mission here recently to correct the complex defects in their hearts, Mission spokesperson Philomina Mariados said. Zamzama had blocks in her aortic valves and was suffering from “tunnel obstruction” while Zarif had a “large hole” in his heart.

The children have recovered and will fly back to Kabul on August 26. They will reach New Delhi tomorrow and be received at the request of Cherian by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Cherian’s initiative is in consonance with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s offer to the chairman of the Afghan Interim Administration in February this year of assistance in various fields, including health, to reconstruct and rehabilitate war-ravaged Afghanistan.

In Cherian, Zamzama and Zarif have found a godfather. The surgeon first learnt of Zamzama’s plight when a friend narrated her case, which he had heard on BBC Radio. The little girl was to have been sent to France alone on an airforce transport aircraft for treatment. But the plan fell through as it was very expensive and there was nobody to accompany her, sources said.

Cherian immediately got in touch with the British High Commission in Chennai, volunteering to operate on Zamzama free.

The high commission, the sources said, got in touch with Downing Street in London and conveyed Cherian’s offer to the orphanage director, Seema Ghani. She in turn spoke to Cherian and thrashed out the formalities involving the treatment of the two children, as Zarif by then had been diagnosed with a serious heart condition.

Houra, a third-year medical student of the University of Edinburgh who was on a six-week volunteer service in Afghanistan, agreed to accompany the children to Chennai for their treatment.

The matter was settled quickly as the Mission agreed to bear their travel expenses, the sources added. Thus began the children’s journey back to life, clutching Houra’s hands.

Now they can sing again, sing the song of life.

Their future had seemed bleak after they landed in the government-sponsored Khorasan Orphanage in Kabul when like thousands in Afghanistan their families perished to the evils of war. But they were lucky to be alive and soon their short lives became inter-twined, bound by the pain of suffering — Zarif met Zamzama when she was brought to the bed next to his in hospital for treatment of typhoid and malaria — and music. Both “have a common thread of musical heritage in their families”, said the sources.

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