FALLUJAH, Iraq --
Laughter from a boisterous group of Marines resonated in a narrow, police-station hallway, where at one end, 5-year-old Ahmed slowly entered a doorway to greet them. The laughter suddenly diminished as they saw the boy gasping for air.
Ahmed was born with a rare heart condition that will kill him if left untreated.
Luckily, Marines and sailors with Police Transition Team 8, Regimental Combat Team 1, have found help.
"I was extremely worried all these years that I might not be able to get the help my son needs," said Othman Mallouki, Ahmed's father and a warrant officer in the city's police headquarters district.
According to Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Craig W. Pasanen, a Team 8 corpsman, the Marines took Ahmed to Fallujah Surgical, where doctors discovered a hole in his heart's septum, which is causing oxygen and deoxygenated blood to pass through the heart and not reach the lungs. Simple daily activities, such as walking up stairs, take Ahmed completely out of breath and cause a bluish coloring around his eyes and face.
Ahmed must have the hole stitched shut, but the nearest specialist who can perform the surgery is in a clinic in Jordan.
Looking for answers, Team 8 Marines contacted the Gift of Life Foundation in Tampa, Fla., which has sponsored the Mallouki family and has helped cover expenses, many of which the Mallouki family cannot afford.
"Before, I could not hope for anything at all, and I was depressed all the time," said Mallouki, who first noticed something wrong when Ahmed was a year old. "Now I feel in my heart a sense of hope that my son will grow up normal. I would not have this hope in my life if it weren’t for the Marines here."
After applying for visas to Jordan, Mallouki and his first-born son are scheduled to travel to the clinic for surgery sometime this month.