May 13, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Every life, all lives, have purpose

Qudrat Ullah Wardak, the little Afghan cutie who stole everyone’s heart in Indiana when he came to the United States with his dad for heart surgery at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, has gone home to God. At least for a day or so, his mom and the other relatives back home got to see how chubby, healthy and happy he’d become.

When Qudrat first appeared on our TV screen and in the newspaper photos, my husband and I were astonished. He looked so much like our son, Peter, looked as a tiny baby: bluish, skinny, frail, yet struggling to give out smiles.

We soon learned that Qudrat resembled Peter because he suffered from almost the same heart defects that he had. Like Qudrat, Peter was born with transposition of the great vessels, in which the aorta and pulmonary artery are transposed. Peter also had tricuspid atresia, which means the tricuspid valve between the right auricle and right ventricle doesn’t work, while Qudrat had problematic cerebral arteries.

We had bittersweet feelings about the Afghan baby’s plight because while we were happy that he could be fixed surgically, Peter could not. Qudrat’s vessels were re-plumbed and his arteries repaired, but when Peter was born such surgeries were not available.

By the age of 3 months, when he was finally diagnosed correctly, Peter was seriously ill with pneumonia. He spent the next couple of months in intensive care at the hospital across town, where the whole family would visit him three or four evenings a week. When he returned home, he wasn’t supposed to cry because of the strain on his heart. This was quite a struggle and he got pretty spoiled, as his brothers and sister soon found out.

Finally, at age 3 Peter was declared strong enough to have corrective surgery. His was one of the first procedures of its kind done at Riley Hospital, a banding of the pulmonary artery so that more oxygenated blood could flow out to his body rather than re-circulate through his lungs.

Another long stay in the hospital followed, marked by a few setbacks. On the first few days, he lay under an oxygen tent, clutching his favorite Augie Doggie. When we visited him, he said he was scared. “Don’t be scared. Augie is in there with you,” we told him. “But he’s scared, too!” Peter said.

When he was older, Peter had certain physical limitations, such as no contact sports. But, he played drums, won the title of ping-pong champ at the Latin School, and entertained his host of friends with his “Guitar-zan” impression and ready wit.

Scary problems arose occasionally as he grew, but the pediatric cardiologist was generally pleased and surprised by Peter’s progress. The message implied for all of us was: Enjoy life, enjoy Peter, while you have him.

And so we did. Peter attended Indiana State University, got a job he loved and married his childhood sweetheart. Later, much to his own and everyone’s surprise, he fathered a little girl. She was almost 2 when he passed away.

When Qudrak died on April 15 back in Afghanistan, I reflected on his and Peter’s lives, both so short and both so full of meaning for so many people. And I thanked God one more time that we had them with us as long as we did. Life is indeed a gift.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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