Mending a child’s heart

Eight-year-old Maryam of Afghanistan has been adapting to American life this summer – swinging at the playground, eating hamburgers, playing at the beach and spending some time at a bowling alley. She’s also been well cared for by N.C. Children’s Hospital staff, who this month fixed a hole in Maryam’s heart.

Maryam and five other Afghan children came to Southern Pines, N.C., through the efforts of a not-for-profit foundation in Mooresville, N.C., called Solace for the Children. The children arrived June 21 for a six-week program that includes specialized medical care, cultural enrichment and team-building exercises.

Watch video of Maryam below

Maryam came to N.C. Children’s Hospital at UNC to receive treatment for congenital heart defects. Her first appointment with pediatric heart doctors was in early July. She then had a catheter-based procedure before undergoing heart surgery on July 9. She came through the surgery well, her surgeon, Dr. Michael R. Mill, said. Mill corrected a narrowing of Maryam’s aorta and closed a fetal blood vessel that had not closed normally when Maryam was a newborn.

Maryam and the other children have been living with host families during their stay in the United States. Maryam’s host mother, Ashley Lewis, says Maryam has learned to count to six in English and to say words such as pizza, burger and chicken.

N.C. Children’s Hospital paired Maryam with 6-year-old Hannah Saye of Pinehurst, who is acting as Maryam’s “Heart Sister.” When Hannah was 12 days old, Mill performed open heart surgery on her to repair a congenital heart abnormality. When the two girls met, Hannah gave Maryam a necklace with a heart pendant on it.

Maryam’s care is paid for with donations to a fund created by Chapel Hill residents Rita and Eric Bigham, long-time UNC Hospitals volunteers.

Maryam will return to Afghanistan in August.

Read more about Maryam at UNC Health Care.

Published July 12, 2013.