By Laurence M. Epstein, M.D.
Nadia Al-Azzawi, a 50 year old woman from Baghdad, suffered for 3 years with recurrent fevers, sweats and weight loss. She was chronically ill, unable to work and trying to raise three children with no help. In 2003, she was having many black-out spells and a physician implanted a cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in her chest to control her heartbeat. The device failed and was replaced 2 years later. The implant site became red, swollen and tender, but the physician who placed the device had fled the country. Ms. Al-Azzawi sought help at the local Shiite hospital and it is a sad fact that because she was Sunni, the hospital refused to treat her.
The infected pocket worsened and the device finally eroded through the skin. Finally, an ambulance driver cut the wire attaching the device to the heart, allowing the wire to retract into her body. For more than 2 years she lived with the chronically infected wire coiled inside her heart. Al-Azzawi was told to seek care in other countries, but the costs of travel and surgery were prohibitive; they could not afford it. “There was no one to help us”, said her husband, Moaiad Al-Juboori. “We saw her in pain, and we didn’t know what to do”. Through a friend, they connected with Simona Shuster of BWH International, and she took it from there, contacting The Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation, which immediately agreed to cover this patient’s medical costs.
It took months of negotiations and struggles with visa issues, but finally Al-Azzawi and Al-Juboori arrived at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where my surgical team and I removed the infected lead from her heart. We were delighted when the dangerous surgery was completed without incident and I felt gratified and humbled when the patient’s husband told me in English, “You are a very good doctor. I tell my family back home that what we’ve seen here is what you would see in your dreams. The treatment is beyond our imagination”.
After her procedure, Al-Azzawi and Al-Juboori had an emotional meeting with Eileen Tye, who along with her husband runs The Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation. “I’ve learned humanity from what you’ve done, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart”, Al-Juboori told Tye with tear filled eyes. “Words can’t express our misery before, and now everything is good. We don’t know how to show you how grateful we are”, he said.
“We’re so happy to be able to help”, Tye told me while visiting the hospital. “We follow these cases so closely that when we finally do meet the patients in person they seem like family”. As a physician it is rewarding to know that Nadia’s health is restored and that she is back with her family in Iraq and doing very well. It’s a wonderful feeling for me and my team to know we were able to make a difference by saving this fine woman’s life.