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Patients come from far and wide, seeking the expert care provided at BWH. But it is not every day that a patient travels nearly 7,000 miles, across land and sea, for medical treatment. Karzan Mahmoud went through much more than just lengthy travel to come to BWH, where he is now receiving treatment that has and will continue to make a lasting impact on his life.
April 2, 2002 is a date Mahmoud will always remember. As the principal driver for Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Salih, Mahmoud was seriously injured during an assassination attempt on Salih’s life. Unarmed at the time, he was caught in the crossfire, taking 23 bullets. Mahmoud was rushed to a hospital in Sulaimania, Iraq, where he received emergency surgery to remove the bullets. He was later moved to a hospital in Turkey where he underwent further surgery.
Mahmoud emerged with the use of only two fingers on his left hand and no use of his right hand. In addition, the hardware that had been inserted to correct his shattered left femur had become infected, causing Mahmoud to walk with a pronounced limp.
Prime Minister Salih issued a request that Mahmoud be granted a six-month medical visa to receive care in the U.S., as the antibiotics and surgery he desperately needed were not available in Turkey.
In December 2002, Michael Brabeck, MD, a physician at Brookside Community Health Center, learned of the request from an American journalist while visiting Northern Iraq. Knowing that BWH had the medical resources and expertise that Mahmoud required, Brabeck approached BWH President Gary L. Gottlieb, MD, MBA and plans to treat Mahmoud were set in motion.
“Mr. Mahmoud’s case is a wonderful example of how the people and resources of BWH can bring extraordinary talent and expertise to those in need, even in very special circumstances,” said Gottlieb.
Mahmoud’s visa was quickly issued, and before long, he was on his way to the U.S. for the first time in his life. BWH physicians and other clinicians would soon be treating the infection in his leg, performing reconstructive surgery on his hands and initiating an intense physical/occupational therapy regimen.
Mahmoud arrived in Washington, D.C., catching a train to Boston on the evening of March 31, where Brabeck and his wife were waiting to greet him. “It just made sense for Karzan to stay with Mary and me while receiving care,” explained Brabeck. “We knew it would be challenging, since Karzan speaks very limited English, but we were happy to take him in and reduce the added stress of having to coordinate his own accommodations.”
After settling in with the Brabecks, Mahmoud had his initial surgery in mid-April. Philip Blazar, MD, a hand surgeon in the BWH Department of Orthopedics, performed capsulectomies and tenolysis on two fingers of Mahmoud’s left hand, enabling him to regain the use of his whole hand.
“Karzan had a limited range of motion due to some scar tissue and complex fractures, which we were able to improve somewhat with surgery,” said Blazar. “Karzan has really been a fun, interesting patient.”
Wolfgang Fitz, MD, BWH Department of Orthopedics, performed the second part of the surgery, removing infected hardware and excising the draining sinus tract from Mahmoud’s left hip. “Karzan’s recovery has been uncomplicated and his limp has improved within a short period of time,” said Fitz.
Upon discovering that the infection was comprised of highly resistant bacteria, Fitz, in conjunction with BWH Infectious Disease, recommended antibiotic therapy.
“Partners Home Health Care assigned a visiting nurse who is from Persia and speaks Farsi to help with the antibiotics,” said Brabeck. “Karzan speaks Kurdish, which has roots in western Iran, and therefore, he and the nurse have been able to communicate quite well.”
With the surgery portion of Mahmoud’s trip on hold for now – he may undergo future surgery to restore some use of his right hand and arm – he is currently experiencing intense physical therapy to retrain him to walk, as well as occupational therapy for his hand, in BWH Rehabilitation Services.
“The staff assigned to work with him have just been terrific,” said Brabeck. “Karzan is a tough young man, who has a very upbeat way about him. The therapists has been tremendously successful in engaging him despite the language barrier.”
In addition to the tremendous care Mahmoud has received from staff and caregivers at BWH, he has also experienced wonderful support from the Kurdish community in Boston.
“The local Kurdish community has truly been amazing,” said Brabeck. “Not only have they completely embraced Karzan, they have also been tremendously supportive to Mary and me.”
So what does Mahmoud think about his first visit to the U.S. and the medical care he is receiving at BWH? With the help of translator Ali Qaradaghi, Mahmoud shared his thoughts with BWH Bulletin, “I cannot even believe I am here. I am so very thankful for the generosity I have been shown by the U.S. government, BWH, Mike and Mary, and the Kurdish community in Boston.”
“I received lots of treatments in Turkey but nothing worked. Here, I have been given better treatment and care, which has helped so much. To me, the differences in our cultures are very minor. I am so appreciative of everything I have experienced here,” he added.