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Soldier, charity work to get Afghan boy help

By Matt Manochio - (Morristown, N.J.) Daily Record Posted : Sunday May 8, 2011 16:25:24 EDT

Muslam Hagigshah didn't stand much of a chance.

Born in poverty in Afghanistan with his bladder literally hanging over his groin outside of his body, he was unable to properly function, and could only walk bow-legged.

Then one day his mother brought the 6-year-old boy to an Army base in Jalalabad City, where she met Army Maj. Glenn Battschinger of Mays Landing, N.J.

Fast-forward one year to the John and Jacqueline McMullen Children's Center at St. Barnabas Medical Center, where the Army major, the little boy, and his Egyptian-born pediatric urologist met Friday to celebrate the child's recovery.

Many things had to happen in the 12 months that elapsed from when Muslam met Battschinger, whose mission in Afghanistan was government mentorship, acting as an outreach to the locals.

"This child was skinny, filthy, he couldn't walk," Battschinger, 49, said. "He was a mess."

April turned into May of 2010, and Battschinger quickly learned the necessary medical assistance Muslam needed couldn't be found in Afghanistan. The closest he got was a team of German physicians who fixed Muslam's hernia. But the bladder problem remained.

Battschinger then began working to find help outside of the war-torn country and quickly discovered Healing the Children New Jersey, a nonprofit group dedicated to finding medical care for impoverished children.

Healing the Children's international inbound coordinator Denise Malsky took up the cause and knew just the person to contact: Dr. Moneer Hanna, one of the few doctors worldwide who's able to perform the operations necessary to heal Muslam. He's performed 155 operations on children to correct their bladder extrophies. He said this condition occurs once in every 50,000 children.

Malsky said Dr. Hanna has donated his time for these type of surgeries in the past, and he agreed to perform Muslam's. Both were on hand Friday to speak to reporters about the efforts to fix the little boy.

"Heal the Children stepped in after two emails," said Battschinger, who began arranging the necessary paperwork required to bring Muslam to the United States. Meanwhile, Malsky identified a host family from Summit, N.J. — Missy and Steven Oplinger.

"He has been loved by extremely kind people," Battschinger said of the Oplingers, who also attended Friday's event.

Muslam arrived in the United States in October — getting on the flight required attendants to spread plastic all over the seats because of the urine leaking from his bladder.

Within one week of arriving in the U.S., Hanna performed the operation to put Muslam's bladder back where it belonged. St. Barnabas provided the boy its facilities for his recovery free of charge. The first operation was successful, but Muslam needed some time to heal from that operation for further reconstructive surgery, which happened April 29.

Between the October operation and the one performed last month, Muslam was able to not only walk, but he eventually began running around. The Oplingers enrolled him in kindergarten in Summit, and he began speaking English.