The dreams of ‘Baby Noor’

Noor’s father cradles her head, shaven clean of a gush of black hair. “Baba! Baba!” she screams. “Don’t let go. Don’t let them take me.”

Her voice bounces down the outdoor corridors of a remote hospital as nurses rush the gurney toward an operating room. She clutches her father’s hands as though she will never see him again.

It is not an easy scene for me to witness. After reporting on Noor and her father for more than a decade, I’ve grown attached; it’s almost as though I am watching my own family suffer.

Noor al-Zahra Haider bears the double misfortune of being born with a life-threatening defect in a land torn by war. She was saved by an unlikely encounter with American soldiers and called Iraq’s miracle baby. By all measures, it’s remarkable the 11-year-old has lived to see this day.

But like her homeland, Noor struggled to stake out a brighter future. And now, once again, it hangs in the balance. I know her father is praying for another miracle.

Noor’s spinal cord did not fully form at birth, a congenital condition called spina bifida. She has no movement or any sensation below her waist and is prone to excessive fluid buildup in her head.

Doctors in America implanted a shunt, or drain, to relieve painful and potentially damaging pressure in her head. But without routine medical care in Baghdad, she developed severe infections, forcing her to travel again to a faraway land, to this hospital in Uganda, for brain surgery.

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