TIKRIT, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2008 -- U.S. Special Forces carry out some of the military's riskiest operations. Their work often is secretive. But one special operations unit made an exception, so that ABC News could tell the story of a different kind of mission, one that gave an Iraqi boy the gift of life. The troops asked that we not reveal their identities.
Special Forces troops are best known for training foreign armies and kicking down doors in search of insurgents. But one Special Forces team was in a village in northern Iraq, building rapport, when members met an influential sheikh.
The sheikh introduced them to little Ibrahim, a 10-year-old who was in dire need of serious medical attention. His bloated stomach condition had local doctors baffled.
"He looked like he had a watermelon under his shirt," one special operations forces team member said, seeing the boy's abdomen completely distended. "In the U.S., he would have definitely gone to the emergency room right then and there."
The Special Forces medics found the trouble Iraqi doctors had missed. Ibrahim's heart had swollen to several times its normal size.
Doctors later found a hole in his heart that leaked blood and fluid, filling his belly, sending his heartbeat racing and crowding the air out of his lungs. Ibrahim could hardly breathe and couldn't walk.
"He would have died; no doubt in my mind," one medic said. "I was compelled to act."
One Special Forces team member has witnessed the ugly side of life and death in a war zone, but he's also a father, and Ibrahim got to him.
"I'm personally affected by the children more than anything else," he said. "The children are the only true innocents here in this situation. It's not their fight, they're just caught up in it. When we see the opportunity to help a kid, we take it."
Securing Iraqi Lives and Livelihood
Medics are often asked for routine medical advice. But Ibrahim's case was rare, and serious.
So the Special Forces team brought Ibrahim to the Kurdish city of Sulimaniya, and the only hospital in Iraq that could treat his condition.
Dr. Aso Faik Salih operated then and there, closing the hole in Ibrahim's heart and draining three gallons of blood and fluid.
"He didn't even look like the same boy," the medic said. "He's completely happy."
Ibrahim's father said, "I was worried he was going to die ... soon. But, thank God, now he's getting much better."
Ibrahim has dreams for the future. He said that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, to save other people's lives, just as the Special Forces medics saved him.
"By meeting with these people and showing we are willing to help them," one Special Forces team member said, "by winning their hearts and minds, helps with the ultimate goal of a secure and stable Iraq."