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Church helps Afghan teen receive surgery
By J.R. Munoz-McNally
Statesville Record

Zaman Rashid knows about bad things.

For the first decade of his young life, he lived under the harsh rule of the Taliban in his native Afghanistan.

And since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he has seen his country ravaged by the seemingly endless war involving U.S. troops, warlords and Islamic radicals.

And the Taliban - a radical Muslim group that came to power shortly before Zaman was born - is still there.

“The Taliban is always coming to Farah,” Zaman said of his hometown in Afghanistan.

“It is very bad there. People cannot find jobs. There is always fighting. It’s very bad.”

The 15-year-old spoke in broken English and with an exaggerated nasally pitch.

That is because, despite his geographical circumstances, Zaman’s most pressing concerns have not come in the form of explosions and gunfire or the anxieties of political instability.

No, the most difficult thing this 15-year-old boy has had to deal with has been a growth inside his own head.

“It’s actually a benign tumor called an angiofibromo,” said Dr. Ralph McKay, a Statesville anesthesiologist.

McKay described the condition as a mass of inflamed or enlarged blood vessels.

“But its removal requires a very serious operation,” he said.
Zaman has had three previous operations in Pakistan, and they have not been able to completely excise the tumor.

The condition is not necessarily life-threatening, but it is difficult to live with. In addition to the effect the tumor has on his breathing and speech, it also causes great pain.

“I get very bad headaches,” Zaman said.

McKay did not become involved in Zaman’s life because of the physician’s medical background, but rather because of the boy’s need for the kind of care not provided in his homeland.

McKay, his wife, Carol, and son, Chris, who is also 15, heard about Zaman during a weekly service at Davidson United Methodist Church and a program the church has been sponsoring for the past 10 years that helps bring youngsters from Third World nations to the United States.

“It was one of those Sundays when they were talking about the program,” said Carol McKay. “And they they said, ‘If you would like to be a host family ... .’ ”

She said her son was the first person to get on board, and he quickly convinced his parents.

“Chris thought it would be a great idea to let one of the children stay with us,” she said. “And then we all got excited about it.”

The church program pays for the children’s airfare to the U.S., where the host families provide food and shelter.

Zaman has been living with the McKays since July. If things had gone according to plan, he would have been back in Afghanistan in mid-August.

It has taken all this time to plow through the paperwork and other hurdles associated with the boy’s surgery.

It also took some phone calls and legwork by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Said T. Jawad, the Afghanistan ambassador to the United States.

Josh Gross, a spokesperson for Jawad said he was impressed by Zaman and that his boss was moved by his story.

“When families come to us with these kinds of difficulties, we prioritize and help where we can,” Gross said. “But the heavy lifting was done by the McKay family and the church.”

Gross said the embassy’s role involved sending a letter to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem detailing how important this operation is and how lacking in medical care Afghanistan is.

Whatever Jawad wrote, it worked.

Zaman and the McKays are hopeful the eight-hour operation will be performed next week at Baptist, which did agree to do the procedure for free.

Iredell Memorial Hospital, Ralph McKay’s employer, also supplied preliminary medical work on Zaman at no charge.

But Zaman, who said he misses his mother’s cooking, is not overly homesick and has an almost star-struck quality about him.

When asked to point out some of the differences between his hometown and Statesville, he replied, “Everything is different.”

Zaman spent his first day in an American learning institution Tuesday, when he enrolled for an abbreviated term at Statesville High School.

He noted things like books and computers and the large number of teachers as things lacking in his school back home.

Ralph McKay said part of the program is aimed at allowing the children - there were six others who made the trip with Zaman - to get a better understanding of the United States.

“But they also got to learn things about each other,” McKay said. “Afghanistan is a fractured nation, and children came from different tribes and different religious sects. So they also got to learn things about their own country and the other people who live there.”

Carol McKay said the learning went beyond the children.

“It was definitely a two-way thing,” she said. “Zaman learned from us and his experience here, but we also learned from him. We are all certainly better for having done this.”

Ambassador Jawad’s office was happy to learn that Zaman was going to have the needed surgery and that event will reach beyond a boy and a family.

“This is really a once-in-a-lifetime deal for Zaman,” Gross said.

“But beyond that the stories he’ll tell when he gets back to his village will have resonance and will be one more part of building a better relationship between the two countries.”

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