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It Takes More Than A Village

A boy from Afghanistan recovers at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

Sometimes it takes more than one's community to heal a child, especially when that child is the victim of a severe deformity and lives in abject poverty. Six-year-old Muslam Hagigshah was struggling in Afghanistan with an unusual and crippling birth defect: his bladder was outside his body.

U.S. Army Major Glenn Battschinger found him while on a routine combat patrol in Jalalabad City. He was "filthy and miserable," said the Major. The boy was unable to stand up straight as he continuously held his leaking bladder.

"His mother's eyes were crying out for help," Battschinger recalled.

Finding that the military was unable to provide the necessary care, Battschinger contacted "Healing the Children," which arranged to have Muslam operated on at Saint Barbabas Medical Center in Livingston. Dr. Moneer Hanna, Egyptian born, pediatric urologist, agreed to perform the surgery.

Muslam’s case was complicated. It would require multiple surgeries, extended hospital stays and months of recovery, all paid for by Saint Barnabas Medical Center. The first surgery to put his bladder into his body occurred in October 2010. It went well but healing took time and he was not ready for reconstructive surgery until April 29 and remains hospitalized. 

An organized reunion of patient and hospital staff on Friday saw Muslam looking pretty happy, if a bit overwhelmed. Before long he will be heading back to Afghanistan.  

Battschinger, who lives in Mays Landing, will escort Muslam back to Jalalabad and supervise the construction of two deep water wells that will be constructed by American Water in and near Muslam's home.

In America, Muslam has lived with Missy and Stephen Oplinger and their family. They expect his move back home to be a major transition. According to his 15-year-old "big brother" Matthew Oplinger,  Muslam is pretty much at home here. He goes to all of Matt's lacrosse games and wants to play himself.

"The entire community has supported him, not just our family," Matthew said. "It's going to be sad when he leaves."

Asked to describe Muslam, his host brother sums it up:  "He loves sports and eating. He's a true American."

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