An Iraqi cameraman’s pursuit of surgery continues

When Iraqi cameraman Jehad Ali came to the United States last September to have corrective surgery for severe injuries he sustained in a December 2005 attack by gunmen in Baghdad, the plan was to spend two months in Valencia, California. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Donald Wiss had offered to waive his fee and the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital had greatly reduced its rate. Things didn’t go exactly as planned, however. Since coming to the U.S., Jehad has stayed in five different cities and seen at least three different doctors.  

The attack blew away the cameraman’s femur. Dr. Wiss had agreed to examine Jehad and potentially perform a plate-grafting procedure based on medical reports from physicians in Iraq. But once he examined his patient in person, he determined that this particular surgery, Wiss’s pecialty, would not benefit Jehad’s condition. The news was a huge blow. In the three-plus years since the attack, Jehad has walked with great difficulty and pain.

It wasn’t until he met CBS international correspondent Lara Logan in 2007 that Jehad even had a possibility of getting surgery to permanently correct his injury. Logan contacted U.S.-based plastic surgeon Randy Sherman who has extensive experience with Operation Smile and other medical relief projects. Dr. Sherman made arrangements with Dr. Wiss and the hospital. It was at this stage, in the fall of 2007, that CPJ got involved by helping to raise funds for Jehad’s travel, stay in the U.S., and remaining medical expenses, as well as making logistical arrangements.

According to Dr. Wiss, one hope remained–a highly specialized limb-lengthening procedure–but it was not his area of expertise. A new doctor and hospital would have to be found willing to similarly donate their services. The search brought Jehad back to the east coast, where he spent five weeks in Baltimore and Washington, and then back to the west coast, this time to Northern California, where Orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Lowenberg and the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco generously agreed to perform the surgery at no cost. The procedure is complex; Jehad may need a many as three rounds of surgery and several months to recover.

With the ever-increasing intricacy of Jehad’s case, the outpouring of support from so many directions has been nothing short of incredible. It’s a case that has galvanized the media, medical, and legal communities, all looking forward, as Jehad himself is, to the day he can carry a camera again. Some 35 individuals made donations in response to CPJ’s fundraising campaign led by Logan. The funds proved to be essential now that Jehad’s stay in the U.S. is already twice as long as initially expected.

In addition to doctors Wiss, Sherman, and Lowenberg, who have given so much of their time, and the California Pacific Medical Center’s commitment, it took a team of lawyers led by attorney Christopher Nugent working pro bono at Holland & Knight to successfully apply for Jehad’s humanitarian parole, a status that has allowed him to enter the U.S. for his treatment. Bay Area firm Morrison & Foerster LLP assisted Jehad with extending his stay, also for no fee.

Journalists Salim Hassan, Alaa Majeed, and several other Iraqis now living in the U.S. have done everything from translate for Jehad–who does not speak English–at his medical appointments, to calling his family for him to update them on his condition when he was still under anesthesia, to making home-cooked meals.

Today, Jehad is resting following the first operation, which took place on January 15.