Bra’a Hussein’s Experience

Project Kids Worldwide Heals One Young Heart from Baghdad

New York – July 16, 2004 Four-year old Bra’a Hussein’s heart will never be the same following recent surgery at NYU Medical Center to correct a highly complex congenital heart condition called tetralogy of fallot. The abnormality, which is comprised of four heart defects, starved the little girl’s body of oxygen, causing her to pass out and nearly die on several occasions. Dr. Stephen Colvin, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Co-founder of Project Kids Worldwide, performed the five-hour surgery on the child who traveled with her mother, Najwa, thousands of miles from their war-torn home of Baghdad. According to Dr. Colvin, “ Fortunately, Bra’a is doing very well. The child had a very complicated cardiac condition and could have died over the next several years if she had not received proper surgical care. Now, she will be able to go to school and play like any other child.”

Both US Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton made special visits to NYU’s pediatric wing to meet Bra’a and her mother. Michael Rienzi, President, Rienzi & Sons, a long-time friend and philanthropic supporter of Project Kids Worldwide, also met with the family. His generous donation of $33,000 made the child’s surgery possible. Since 2001 Mr. Rienzi has sponsored several other needy children for heart surgery and in 2002 was presented the Project Kids Worldwide Humanitarian Award for his extraordinary commitment to the charitable organization.

The little girl’s plight came to the attention of an NYU pediatric cardiologist by way of an email. The plea for help was relayed to the Program Director for Project Kids Worldwide, JoAnn Brown-Schwesinger, and arrangements were quickly made for the child’s records to be sent for evaluation. Mrs. Schwesinger made contact with a Christian, Israeli-based organization, Shevet Achim, or ‘Brothers Together,’ which provided the link between the Iraqi child and Project Kids. “As soon as we heard about this child, we immediately began working around the clock to do everything we could to get her out of Baghdad and to NYU for surgery. It has been nothing short of a miracle that she is here. Her surgery was a success, and now she will return home to her family with a healthy heart. She can’t wait to go back and play with her cousins,” states Mrs. Schwesinger.

‘Brothers Together’ made the necessary arrangements for documentation, travel and transportation out of Baghdad. Under the direction of Jonathan Miles, Shevet Achim’s founder, the charity serves as a liaison between desperate families seeking medical help for children in Iraq and Palestine and medical personnel in Israel. According to the child’s mother, “ I was so happy I cried when they called to say that Bra’a had been accepted for surgery. Many times she could not breathe, and we would rush her to the hospital for oxygen. There was no surgeon in Iraq that could perform the surgery she needed. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped to save my daughter’s life. I will go back to Baghdad and tell them how wonderful everyone has been.”

Project Kids Worldwide has been providing life-saving heart surgery for needy children around the world since 2001. Dennis Schwesinger, Co-founder of Project Kids Worldwide and Director of Program and Research Development for NYU’s Cardiac & Vascular Institute, was instrumental in making the child’s surgery a reality. Through his efforts, international partnerships have been established in China, India, the Philippines, and countries in and around the Caribbean, with medical supplies and training being furnished to the respective medical communities. Project Kids has sponsored many other children from war-torn countries including Albania, Kosovo, Nigeria, and the Gaza Strip.