Abused Afghan woman to receive plastic surgery

  • Published
  • By Air Force Capt. Bob Everdeen
  • Provincial Reconstruction Team Qalat
A 16-year-old woman brutally attacked by her husband in December is set to receive plastic surgery in Kabul following close coordination between the Afghan government and Provincial Reconstruction Team Qalat, a joint U.S. Air Force and Army unit stationed here. 

Nazia Hookum Darr was beaten and disfigured by her 40-year-old husband of three months on Christmas Day. The man--who is still on the run from police--broke 16 of his wife's teeth, shaved her head, cut off her nose and ears and poured scalding water on her hands and feet. The abuse started shortly after their wedding and escalated until the attack on Dec. 25. 

PRT Commander Army Lt. Col. James Bramble found out about the attack the day after it happened. "The story was so compelling that we immediately contacted the provincial governor and arranged a trip to the local hospital to visit the doctors taking care of the girl," he said. 

The following day representatives from the PRT met with Zabul Province Chief of Staff Gulab Shah and the local Director of the Interior, and then traveled to Zabul Provincial Hospital to meet with Ms. Darr in the women's ward. Due to Afghan sensitivities, only a female translator and chief physician were allowed to meet with the abused woman. 

"Nazia's wounds were healing well and she was well taken care of by the Afghan physicians," said Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Gauron, PRT chief medical officer. "The hospital staff, especially the female nurses, really rallied around Nazia. We made frequent visits, bringing soft foods and paying for some of her meals. Some of the time she was in excellent spirits and other times you could see the fear in her eyes." 

The hospital staff relayed Nazia's fears of retribution from her husband or his family members as part of Pashtunwali, a pre-Islamic-era honor code that is still practiced by the majority of Afghans in this rural province of the country. 

My husband "was an older man with gray hair and he was mean to me from the time we met," Ms. Darr said. "I had no choice; my mother died when I was young and my stepmother arranged the marriage. I'm afraid of him. He's a former Talib. In Qalat my husband was jobless and was always complaining about economic problems. Two weeks after we moved into our new home he beat me for no obvious reason." 

According to Afghan National Police, the man's first wife died about a year earlier under suspicious circumstances. His anger at his current wife comes from suspicions of infidelity, accusations his wife adamantly denies. 

"There was an outpouring of sympathy," Colonel Gauron said. "We had American military surgeons, two international nongovernmental organizations and the Afghan National Military Hospital all volunteering to help. After discussing the options, we elected to facilitate Nazia's transport to Kabul and have Afghans take care of her." 

Colonel Gauron worked medical issues through Dr. Gary Davis, an American surgeon working with the NMH in Kabul. Dr. Davis obtained consent from plastic surgeon Gen. (Dr.) Mohammad to accept the patient transfer. Meanwhile, Colonel Bramble worked the political side, obtaining permission of Zabul Province Governor Delbar Jan Arman to allow military transport of Nazia to the hospital in Kabul. Governor Arman coordinated with the Minister of Women's Affairs in Kabul to take care of Nazia while she is in the capital city. 

In mid-January, Nazia was flown by military airlift to Kabul. 

"Once we were in Kabul, I immediately called Doctor Davis and the Minister of Women's Affairs," Colonel Gauron said. "The doctor immediately arranged a bed for Nazia, and the Director of Women's Affairs sent a male and female escort to bring Nazia to the hospital." 

"When we made the transfer with the representatives at the gate, Nazia cried," said PRT Interpreter Spozhmae Karzai. "We will miss her, but we're so happy she is getting to the plastic surgeons. She deserves it." 

The tragic event provided living proof that governance is making progress and is being accepted by the people of Afghanistan. Thanks to the diligent work from numerous Afghan agencies the young girl will get the surgery she requires to regain her dignity and have an opportunity of living a normal life. 

(Capt. Everdeen is deployed to Qalat from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio)