Feb. 17, 2008 -- Thousands of miles and countless cultural differences separate Iraq from Nashville, Tenn., but all it took was the small broken heart of a two-year-old Iraqi girl to bring the two locales together.
This week — with a copy of the Koran and a small guardian angel tucked beside her on the operating table — a little girl named Amenah underwent life-saving, open-heart surgery.
"It was clear she was in a dire situation and she was showing signs and symptoms that, if left untreated, she was not going to live much longer," said Dr. Thomas Doyle, of Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, where the girl was treated.
But Amenah's story begins long before her successful operation. It started in the Iraqi desert when Iraqi doctors told her mother she had little chance of surviving past age three.
Amenah was born with a large hole in her heart and a severe obstruction between her heart and lungs. Her circulation was so poor that her lips, fingers and toes turned blue.
Then, last October a group of Marines on routine patrol noticed a little sick girl. That girl was Amenah.
A reservist, who also is a doctor, examined her and realized she had a serious heart defect. With the help of the U.S. military, Amenah was flown to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville last month, after the wife of the Marine company commander led a drive that raised $30,000 to cover expenses.
Doctors have called her operation a success and now the girl's skin has taken on a healthy hue.
Amenah's charm has touched the hearts of her helpers.
"She loves everyone that meets her, she's very personable. She'll go to strangers," said Vanderbilt Children's Hospital Associate Professor of Cardiac Surgery Dr. Karla Christian. "She's a goodwill ambassador from Iraq."
But, the girl's mother seems the most enthused.
"I didn't imagine this could happen. I thank God for all those who have helped," said Amenah's mother, Maha, in a statement released by the hospital.
Maha and Amenah will remain in Tennessee with a host family for the next month as the girl recovers.
"It's been a joy getting to know Maha and her daughter," said Sarah Berger, who is hosting the pair. "As we've grown to know each other, even though there's a complete barrier, language-wise, we understand each other [because] we're both parents. We're both moms with four children."