Afghan girl receives life-saving surgery at N.C. Children's Hospital

Afghan girl receives life-saving surgery at N.C. Children's Hospital click to enlarge Maryam's arrival.
Afghan girl receives life-saving surgery at N.C. Children's Hospital click to enlarge Maryam and Hannah, heart sisters.

Eight-year-old Maryam from Afghanistan has been learning about life in America first-hand this summer. She and five other Afghan children came to the United States through Solace for the Children, a nonprofit organization located in Mooresville, N.C. Solace’s six-week summer program includes specialized medical care, cultural enrichment and team-building exercises.

Maryam is the only Solace child being treated at N.C. Children’s Hospital, her care paid for through donations to a charitable fund created by long-time UNC Hospitals volunteers, Rita and Eric Bigham, of Chapel Hill, N.C.

Army doctors in Afghanistan diagnosed Maryam with a non-specific heart condition. Shortly after arriving in the United States in June, Maryam saw pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Elman Frantz, who identified Maryam’s problem as a congenital defect of the blood vessel that connects the pulmonary artery and aorta, the two main arteries coming out of the heart. A catheter procedure performed by Frantz on July 3 confirmed the issue but also revealed a second, unexpected defect—a narrowing of Maryam’s aorta. Left untreated, according to Frantz, Maryam could experience heart failure and death.

After the discovery of the second defect, doctors determined that Maryam needed heart surgery to fix her heart. Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Michael Mill, surgically corrected both defects on July 9, and Maryam spent a week inpatient recovering.

Maryam and the other Solace children have stayed with host families in the Southern Pines area during their time the United States. Besides spending time with her host parents, Ashley and Marcus Lewis, and two host siblings, Caleb and Calista, N.C. Children's Hospital paired Maryam with a “heart sister,” 6-year-old Hannah Saye of Pinehurst. Hannah underwent heart surgery with Dr. Mill when she was just a few days old. Hannah and Maryam enjoyed a playdate in Pinehurst in late June, and later Hannah was there to greet Maryam and provide comfort during Maryam's first visit to the Children’s Hospital.

Maryam was discharged and returned home with her host family on July 16, planning to spend her remaining time in the U.S. enjoying new things. Maryam has already experienced many fun American activities, including an excursion to a bowling alley, ice skating, a beach trip with her host family and trying new American foods, like hamburgers and ice cream.

Maryam and the other Solace children will return to Afghanistan in early August, where—thanks to her corrective surgery—Maryam should live a normal, healthy life.

Visit Solace for the Children, Southern Pines on Facebook to see great photo highlights of Maryam and her Afghan friends as they experience North Carolina through the organization's summer program.


Maryam arrives at RDU

Life in the U.S.

Maryam's First Medical Visit


Maryam and friends in Chapel Hill

Saying Goodbye


Maryam in the News

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