NEW HYDE PARK, NY – Bilal Sharif has discovered many reasons to love America. He has television, running water, a bathtub and books. But, the greatest gift this shy Afghani boy has received from the USA is the life-saving surgery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center that has transformed him into, in his words, “a real normal boy.”
During a press conference today at Cohen, Bilal listened intently as representatives from the military and the hospital described the two-year journey that brought him here for life-saving care from a compassionate surgeon and his team.
Bilal was born with a rare condition known as bladder exstrophy---in which the bladder is exposed inside-out on the surface of the body. According to Moneer Hanna, MD, the pediatric urologist who performed a four-hour surgery to repair the condition, this disorder appears once in every 30,000 births.
“Usually, we would correct this procedure within the first 48 hours of life,” said Dr. Moneer. “It is heartbreaking that Bilal had to wait so long to receive this surgery.”
As a boy in Afghanistan, Bilal suffered the misery of doing heavy manual labor to support his family---facing the daily challenge of pain and infection. Fortunately, hope came to Bilal in the form of Maj. Glenn Battschinger, US Army Reserve, 353 Civil Command, a civil affairs officer who met Bilal and his family while stationed in Afghanistan. Maj. Battschinger’s role in the 353rd is to rebuild stability in parts of the world affected by war. Deeply moved by Bilal’s plight, Maj. Battschinger took up the cause and two years later, Bilal was brought to Cohen and received the corrective surgery on Nov. 14.
The highpoint of today’s event came when Bilal saw Maj. Battschinger’s face appear on a large screen. The Major, who was deployed five days after Bilal’s surgery, recorded a special message for Bilal, pointing up the young boy’s courage.
“One day very soon I’ll be coming back to see you,” he said. “Until then, I want you to know I’m very proud of you. I’ll see you soon.”
Because he will be facing another operation in the near future, Bilal will remain in the United States with his host family. It is his desire to learn as much as he can in school so that he can teach his entire family in Afghanistan how to read and write when he returns home.
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