Cardiac training programs live or die by the initiative of the local doctors.
Ultimately, this is their program—an investment in them. As soon as they lose their passion to learn, coordinate, and hack through the red tape, the program is in trouble.
Perhaps that is why our time in Fallujah has been so encouraging. Dr. Firas (pronounced fee-rahs) is the only pediatric cardiologist in the Anbar region—Iraq’s largest geographic region and home to a growing number of children with heart problems.
So, given his kindness and compassion for these children, we asked him if he would share a little about his life, his concerns, and his hopes for the future of Fallujah.
(Read part one of this interview here.)
PLC: If you don’t mind, would you share about your life and work during the war?
Dr. Firas: Yes, I was in Baghdad working as a general pediatrician—I have two PhDs that allow me to work in these fields, one in general pediatrics and one in pediatric cardiology. But my family was here in Fallujah at first. So I moved them to Syria and I lived here in Iraq alone to complete my studies and care for children.
PLC: Some might assume you wouldn’t want to work with Americans after the things you experienced—has that been difficult?
Dr. Firas: I believe there are political issues, and there are the American people. I know many of the Americans don’t support what happened here in Fallujah. I know politicians aren’t the same as all the people—there is a difference. Of course, I am not happy about everything that happened during the war. But I’ve seen your team twice now in Fallujah, and you are trying to help our people.
You all give a different view of Americans. Of course, many people have anger in their hearts, but I know that these great amounts of congenital defects are because of the war and the chemical weapons [sic]. About 50% of the congenital heart defects [in Iraq] are in Anbar, our region, and most of those are in Fallujah. It is widely thought by our people that these are because of the war.
PLC: That “different view of Americans” is something we care deeply about. It’s great that you see these missions as opportunities for peacemaking as well. Today was the final case of the mission. Would you tell us a little about that? I know you were excited.
Dr. Firas: Today, we helped a small child by closing a hole in her heart. It took us nearly an hour just to get inside—it was so difficult. But it was amazing how immediately her system pressures rose and everything improved. It was a very satisfying operation because the child was close to death and our fix helped her immediately.
PLC: Do you feel like you could do corrections like this by yourself yet?
Dr. Firas: For now, no. I don’t have surgical back-up to assist me if something goes wrong. But… I must do something. So I choose the most simple cases and prepare them for our surgical missions. Then we can do them during the missions.
As I said, I also don’t have any help—I’m alone—and I must have other doctors to help guide me as I make the correction. I am hoping to recruit more Iraqis to come train with me. In all of Iraq, though, we only have thirteen child heart doctors. They are very rare here. This year, we had 12 new people applied for adult cardiology, but only two applied for pediatric. Working with children is much more difficult and stressful.
PLC: God-willing, more doctors will come alongside you, and the backlog of children who need surgery will be a distant memory. Thank you for sharing with us.
Dr. Firas: Insha’allah, I really hope so. Thank you.
Dr. Firas’ dream of establishing a heart center in Fallujah is possible, and we intend to do whatever we can to help him fulfill it! If you would like to contribute to the training and life-saving that is happening here, please give what you can to help Dr. Firas save lives!