DELHI, INDIA — Baby Elaha, just one and a half years old, races up and down the corridors of Scroff Eye Hospital in Delhi.
She jumps up on chairs, waves her tiny arms in the air, and plays games with her dad by grabbing hold of his ears and pulling his face down towards her. She wrinkles and wiggles her nose at him, giggling at the funny faces he makes. Elaha is a typical toddler, and her father, Baz Mohamed, a typical doting father.
But this was not the way their life together began. When Elaha was born – in Afghanistan – she had a white opacity covering her left eye, a visual impairment that her doctors could not definitively identify or treat. Determined to help his baby daughter, Baz scoured the Internet in search of answers and learned that India had made huge technological advancements in combating corneal blindness. So he moved his wife and children to India in order for Elaha to have her transplant surgery.
The transplant changed their lives in ways they could not have predicted. First, accepting the gift of a cornea for Elaha came with strong conditions. Because Elaha’s recovery regimen would be intense, her surgeon, Dr. Umang, demanded the family commit to regular follow-up appointments in Delhi. They could not risk the success of the surgery by returning to war-torn Kabul, as had been their original plan. And so the family resettled their life in India.
Their religion also came into play with Elaha’s transplant. Baz and his family are Muslim and it is the opinion of a large number of Muslim scholars that organ donation is not permitted. Based on certain interpretations of the Koran, it is considered sacrilegious to bury a body that is not fully intact. Yet, when a person of Islam needs a cornea, there is no such conflict in accepting it.
Confronted with this knowledge, Baz prayed for the family who had donated the cornea tissue to his daughter, aware that it would have been impossible to obtain in Afghanistan. And based on his experience with Elaha, he committed to being an organ donor himself so that he may one day help others live. He continues to raise awareness of organ donation with friends and relatives, some of whom are resistant based on their religion, while others are receptive to the noble benefits of donation. It is a long process, but he has chosen to do his part in raising the consciousness of his people.
According to Baz, “Everything is possible,” and he is hopeful for the future. He hopes that one day Elaha will become a doctor and help others, but he supports whatever destiny she chooses for herself. And he prays Afghanistan will heal with the same spirit embodied by his daughter.