I’m always excited to see a comment at end of my posts or an email from a reader. It’s heartening to know that I’m sharing information that is creating dialogue. A few weeks ago, Lee Hilling, author of a newly published book A PLACE OF MIRACLE contacted me about his book. He had my attention at the mention of his 60 trips to Afghanistan.
Lee has been Chairman of French Medical Institute (FMIC) for Children which has provided life saving medical care to pediatric heart patience in Afghanistan. He has held board and senior executive management positions at academic health centers in the United States, Pakistan, and East Africa. After learning about his devotion to saving Afghan children's lives, I asked him to share his story with us.
Lee donates all proceeds from the sale of A PLACE OF MIRACLE to FMIC for either patient welfare support of Afghan staff development. Go ahead, buy a copy.
Guest blogger, Lee Hilling
In February 2011, I attended the French Medical Institute for Children’s First International Pediatric Symposium. I had been deeply involved planning and implementing FMIC for nearly seven years and I had been chairman of its board for five years. FMIC had accomplished many miraculous things [in Afghanistan] in a short time.
By then, 1000 pediatric cardiac surgeries had been performed, half of which were open-heart cases, with results at or exceeding international standards. Best of all, for more than a year, FMIC’s cardiac surgery was being done by an all-Afghan team. Surgical procedures had been successfully performed that had never before been done in Afghanistan. Children’s lives had been saved that, without FMIC, would have been lost.
Frishta with teddy bear from FMIC
This symposium was the first such event ever held in Afghanistan. Despite security issues, nearly 250 Afghan nationals and thirty-two international participants from nine countries attended the conference. FMIC’s Afghan physicians and nurses presented case studies from their practices and presentations were made by physicians from the U.S., Spain, Pakistan, and Canada.
Dr. Amena with Neha and her parents
The pride of FMIC’s [Afghan] staff was palpable. They realized they could host and participate in an event wherein their experiences and accomplishments were respected and of interest to health care professionals from around the globe. I was sitting close to a doctor and nurse from the U.S. Navy. I overheard the nurse say,
“I never realized something like this could happen in Afghanistan.”
At that point I got goosebumps and almost teary. I realized FMIC had moved beyond just delivering the highest quality health care in the country and was now contributing to reconstruction of the nation. It was at that point I decided to write a book and to try to tell its marvelous story.
Salma, her father and Lee Hilling
The story had to be about the people whose lives had been changed by FMIC. I wanted to know how families’ lives were different after their children were treated. I wanted to meet children and their parent in their homes and hear their stories in their own words.
I visited families in Kabul and traveled to remote areas of Bamyan and Badakhshan Provinces. I met Frishta—a beguiling four-year old—in Koprok Village in the beautiful Band-e-Amir national park. I met Salma in Nawa Village, in one a sparsely populated districts in Badakhshan. I met Ismail and Yogana, both of whom would have died within days or weeks after their births, were it not for that care that could performed at FMIC.
Parents told me how their children couldn’t walk and were doomed to disability, even slow death, before being cared for at FMIC. Now they were able to attend school and play with friends.
Afghan nurse at work at FMIC ICU
International combat forces and development agencies spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan in the years before and after FMIC’s inauguration. Hospitals and clinics were built, but in some cases they were of such poor quality they were useless, In other cases, patients, doctors, and nurses fearing Taliban retribution were afraid to use them.
Corruption was rampant. Sound oversight of contractors was often absent and the quality of completed projects was poor. FMIC is one of Afghanistan’s most remarkable success stories. The story about FMIC is a story about miracles. My involvement with it has been one of the most uplifting experiences of my life.