Dr. Arman Farr Helps Afghan teen hit by shrapnel

By Andrew Dys, Columnist - adys@heraldonline.com

Dr. Arman Farr makes miracles every day. He is one of a few pediatric retinal specialists anywhere. But Tuesday, Farr readied to work magic in his operating theater at Carolina Surgery Center in Rock Hill on someone he never expected to see: A kid from Afghanistan hurt in a war that seems like it will never end.

“This is a special one,” Farr said. “We do a lot of trauma surgeries. Work injuries, that kind of thing. But this is a child of war.”

A 15-year-old boy lay on a bed, ready for surgery. If he weighs a hundred pounds that might be stretching it. He's barely 5 feet tall.

He said with a smile that would not cease despite all he has seen with two good eyes before one eye was mangled by hate: “My name is Nageeb Afghan. I used to have two brothers and a sister. Now, I have one brother and one sister.”

Nageeb's full first name is Najeebullah, but he likes to be called Nageeb. On Aug. 20, he was on the handlebars of a bicycle, with his 13-year-old brother Hamed pumping away on the pedals. On the way to a polling place, with adults in the family, for the historic Afghan elections.

A Taliban rocket aimed at a military convoy fell into their lives before any vote was cast. That rocket blew up Hamed. No surgery could save him. Nageeb was blown off the bicycle, with wounds to one foot and a 3-millimeter piece of shrapnel in his left eye.

A Davidson, N.C.-based humanitarian group called Solace for the Children, which helps Afghan kids get medical and dental care, stepped in. Afghan doctors did some surgery but could not give Nageeb the specialized surgery he would need to see the smile of a beautiful girl, or a sunset or the pages of a book.

“I can see light and dark,” said Nageeb of his left eye. “That's it.”

In 2009, Solace for the Children helped 34 Afghan children with medical care. Nageeb makes 35. “We try and promote peace on a foundation of health,” said Patsy Wilson, executive director of Solace for the Children.

Farr, with the Retina Institute of the Carolinas, did not hesitate when asked by the group's directors if he would perform on Nageeb what he called a “humanitarian mission,” at the surgery center next to Piedmont Medical Center. PMC is a partner with the surgery center and helped coordinate Nageeb's care.

So in a doctor's office filled with people from Fort Mill and York getting their eyes fixed, a kid from near Kandahar, Afghanistan, lay on an operating table Tuesday in Rock Hill. He hoped for a miracle from the magic fingertips of Arman Farr.

Before being wheeled in for surgery, I asked Nageeb what he wants to be when he grows up in a country torn by war.

“I want to be a doctor, like him,” said Nageeb, pointing at Farr.

Two good eyes would help. Nageeb, a child of war, somehow smiled

And then he was put under. General anaesthesia, knocking him out.

All that could be seen in that operating room, under the towels and blankets and blue surgical sheets, was his left eye. There were nurses and others in the room, but it seemed like the eye was alone with Farr's magic hands that hold the gift of sight.

The surgery took about an hour and a half. Farr used a powerful microscope, looking into lenses that magnified the eye, while his nimble fingers ridded the eye of blood and scar tissue. And that shrapnel that was part of the same rocket that killed Nageeb's brother.

Farr and his team put in an acrylic replacement lens in the eye — the lens is what the eye uses to focus, like the lens in a camera. The lens was 7 millimeters in diameter, built to the specifications of Nageeb's eye.

Farr used extreme care, working with precision sutures to sew the lens into place. The retina is like the film in an old-fashioned camera because it registers images that are sent to the brain, Farr said. It is similar to brain tissue. It is not like skin cells or muscles that create new tissue.
What Nageeb has for a retina is all he will ever have. Farr was alone with that retina and Nageeb's future in that room.

After the surgery, Farr came out of the operating room. He pulled down his mask. “He has a very good chance for decent vision,” Farr said. “The lens was replaced. The blood was removed. The retina was fairly healthy.”

Farr mentioned again how this was not just a patient. He talked about Nageeb's brother dying in Afghanistan. And he said he was proud to do a surgery that might change a life of a kid from across the world.

Nageeb is staying with Carole McKay, his “host mom” from the Solace group, near Statesville, N.C. He will come back today to Farr's Rock Hill office for a follow-up examination.

In a couple weeks, Farr said, Nageeb will know if this journey that started with his brother's death will end with the ability to see his family again, back in a country where his brother died underneath him on a bicycle.

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com