By The Carter Center’s Human Rights Program
There was no anger in Dr. Samira Abdulghani’s voice as she recounted her work as a pediatric specialist at General Hospital in Fallujah, Iraq. She was at a Carter Center forum of human rights defenders telling the story of “Iraq’s Hiroshima” and to ask for help. Her message:
Nearly 1 in 7 babies born in Falluhjah have major birth and congenital heart defects, likely due to chemical weapons used during U.S.-led attacks beginning in 2004, and the community needs help.
They need medical facilities and medicine; they need someone to take responsibility and to find a solution.
Abdulghani is the only doctor in Fallujah documenting the cases of congenital abnormalities. In one three-week period, she recorded 37 births with serious defects in her hospital alone.
“My heart breaks for the mothers, who either suffer the pain of giving birth to children with debilitating diseases or see their dream of having children crushed,”
In 2009, she found an ally in Jeremy Courtney, an American living in Iraq who became aware of her research. Courtney was the founder of the Preemptive Love Coalition, an organization that trains Iraqi heart surgeons and nurses to treat heart defects in children. There is a backlog of tens of thousands of Iraqi children who need this lifesaving surgery.
The organization was founded after Courtney was approached by a Fallujah family asking him to help their six-year-old girl who had a heart defect. Although he had no medical training, when he saw the girl he promised to do something.
“When your heart breaks on behalf of someone else, what is fear?”
said Courtney. “The fear that I didn’t have the expertise to help this family was gone.”
While the effects of the U.S.-led wars will be long-term, Courtney and Abdulghani will continue to work together to help children and their families heal.
Watch Reconciliation Through Healing, to learn more about the peacebuilding work of the Preemptive Love Coalition.
Dr. Samira al-Alaani Abdulghani is a pediatrician at Fallujah General Hospital and part of the Preemptive Love Coalition who has first-hand experience treating the birth defects brought on by the war in Iraq.