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Updated 3:00 PM May 8, 2003



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15-year-old Iraqi burn patient treated at U-M Trauma Burn Center

As soon as James Thornberry saw the story on CNN, he knew he had to do something. Here was a girl, about the same age as his youngest daughter, who had burns over more than 20 percent of her body. What if his own child were desperately in need of sophisticated medical attention?

Thornberry (Photo by Marcia Ledford,
U-M Photo Services)

The morning after he saw the report about 15-year-old Hannan Shihab, Thornberry began making phone calls on behalf of the Iraqi teenager who was injured when explosions near her home caused a lantern to fall off a shelf and ignite her clothing. He contacted the U-M Trauma Burn Center, where his father had received excellent care many years before when he was injured in a house fire. He also got in touch with U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton). Everyone was happy to help.

“I was saddened by the fact that you can’t conduct a war without innocent people getting hurt,” said Thornberry, a freight train conductor from Davisburg, at a May 7 press conference about Hannan’s arrival at the Trauma Burn Center.

Taheri (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

The picture of self-effacement, Thornberry readily gave credit to everyone else who assisted in the effort to bring Hannan to Ann Arbor, including Dr. Paul Taheri, chief of the Trauma Burn Critical Care Division and others at the U-M Health System (UMHS). “They dove into the effort to help her,” Thornberry said. “I ended up doing very little. I made some phone calls to what turned out to be the right people.”

Hannan—believed to be the first Iraqi child injured during the war to receive care at a U.S. hospital—will be treated for several weeks or longer, Taheri said. She was in good spirits and had a lively sense of humor during her first day at the center, he said. She was in stable condition, and her mother was at her bedside.

After she was burned, the wartime conditions prevented her from getting any care for the burns for days after the incident, until her parents approached two U.S. Marines. They gave her first aid and bandaged her wounds. She was treated as an inpatient at a hospital but later discharged, Taheri said, and she continued to receive treatment as an outpatient. She and her mother used soap, water and creams on the burns, Taheri said.

Ideally, burns are treated immediately, and the delay between the time of her burns and treatment at U-M is “sub-optimal,” he said. But he praised her family for their efforts to care for Hannan.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) speaks with Hannan Shihab and her mother at the military mobile hospital at the Baghdad airport. (Photo courtesy UMHS)

Any patient with burns this severe will have permanent scarring, he said. Beyond that, Taheri said, it was too early to predict the long-term effects of the burns.

A Baghdad-based crew from the British ITN network told Hannan’s story, and the segment aired on CNN. After Thornberry saw the story and started his effort to help her, Taheri talked to Hannan’s Iraqi physician, and the UMHS physician agreed to accept the girl as a patient. An effort coordinated by the Trauma Burn team arranged for her travel plans.

Rogers took the lead with military communications, immigration and transportation logistics. He recently returned from a congressional fact-finding mission to Iraq, and he met with Hannan and her mother in Baghdad.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) offered their support if further help is needed. Northwest Airlines donated airline tickets for Hannan and her mother to fly from Frankfurt, Germany, where they arrived via U.S. military airlift May 5.
At Detroit Metro Airport, Hannan and her mother were met by representatives from the Trauma Burn Center and a translator from the UMHS Interpreter Services Program.

“It took a tremendous amount of coordination and hours of work to bring Hannan to the treatment Dr. Taheri and the Burn Center can provide,” Rogers said. “Thankfully, when Mr. Thornberry sought us out, no one said ‘it can’t be done.’”

Donations or good wishes can be sent to the U-M Trauma Burn Center, 1500 E. Medical Center Dr., University Hospital Room 1C340, Ann Arbor MI 48109-0033.

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