October 17, 2014

‘God gives us opportunities’: Soldier’s care, father’s love and child’s legacy continue to offer hope to Afghan children

This 2005 photo captures St. Thomas of Aquinas Parish member Mike Roscoe holding Qudrat, a child in Afghanistan whose incredible journey to Indianapolis for heart surgery changed Roscoe’s life, touched people’s hearts and continues to pave the way for health care for children around the world. (Submitted photo)

This 2005 photo captures St. Thomas of Aquinas Parish member Mike Roscoe holding Qudrat, a child in Afghanistan whose incredible journey to Indianapolis for heart surgery changed Roscoe’s life, touched people’s hearts and continues to pave the way for health care for children around the world. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

For a long time, Mike Roscoe struggled with a question that challenged him in his faith:

“Does God have a direct plan for us, or does he place opportunities in front of us to use our graces with his guidance?”

For Roscoe, the beginning of an answer came 10 years ago as he stood by the front gate of a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan in the middle of the night, carefully watching every movement of the Afghan man standing in front of him.

What happened next still continues to influence Roscoe’s life, the lives of his wife and their four children, and the lives of hundreds of other children and families.

Trained to be on guard for any suspicion of a terrorist attack, Roscoe kept eyeing the desperate-looking man who was holding a small child and frantically explaining that he had just walked 10 miles in a sleet storm to have somebody at the Army’s medical clinic help his son.

As the clinic’s medical officer on duty that night, Roscoe knew that base protocol would have normally called for him to tell the man to return in the morning during the clinic’s regular hours. But two things made Roscoe think twice.

First, the Afghan had a note from a U.S. Army doctor who had been treating local people earlier in the week at a refugee camp 10 miles away.

And secondly, there was just something in the man’s desperate plea for his son that connected with Roscoe, a member of the Indiana National Guard and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis.

Yet, as Roscoe escorted the father and son past the gate, he wasn’t prepared for what would happen in the clinic.

‘We were his only hope’

“I let the kid in, and my first thought was, ‘This is awful,’ ” Roscoe recalls. “What I found was a malnourished, very small child who turned blue every time he cried. The physical exam demonstrated a very loud heart murmur that was consistent with a congenital heart defect. Left untreated would mean almost certain death.”

Heartbroken, Roscoe knew there was nothing he could do in the clinic or in that country to save the child. And yet, he knew he had to try to do something.

Roscoe later wrote about that moment from late 2004 in his journal.

“I decided that I wanted to get this child, Qudrat, back to the United States for surgery, as this was his only hope. I also could see the anguish in the father’s face, and pleading for us to do something as he also understood that we were his only hope.

“I approached our command, who essentially told me that I was crazy, and that there was absolutely no possibility to get him back, and that was just the unfortunate situation of living in a Third World country. That did not sit well with me, as I was a father myself of young children. This had to be part of the reason that God sent me here—away from my own family. I was determined to make my separation meaningful.”

Roscoe’s plan began the next day with a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul where he was given a daunting list of requirements to fulfill before Qudrat could even be considered for transport to the United States for surgery.

‘I saw my own kids in him’

Roscoe and members of his unit immediately went to work on the obstacles that had to be overcome. They received a commitment from officials at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and Dr. Mark Turrentine that Qudrat’s surgery would be performed for free.

Jim and Roberta Graham—whose son, Rick, was stationed in Afghanistan with Roscoe—agreed to welcome Qudrat’s father, Hakim, into their Brownsburg home during their time in Indiana.

And with the help of a story in the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, the father and son received the extremely rare permission from U.S. Army officials to travel to the United States on a military plane in the spring of 2005.

The story of Qudrat’s pending surgery captured the attention of newspapers and television stations in Indianapolis. It also captured the hearts of people in the city.

And when the news of Qudrat’s successful operation reached Roscoe back in Afghanistan, he was thrilled.

“I think I saw a little kid that was going to die, and I think I saw my own kids in him,” Roscoe recalls. “And if I didn’t do anything, I couldn’t sleep at night.”

From joy to tragedy to hope

Roscoe accompanied Qudrat and Hakim on the joyous day they returned to their village in Afghanistan.

“The entire community was present and had a party for us,” Roscoe notes. “We were even invited into their homes to see the mother, which is a tremendous honor in their culture. We returned to our base feeling on top of the world.”

The joy changed to devastation by the next morning.

Roscoe learned that Qudrat had died.

A general assigned Roscoe and another medical officer to visit the child’s home, to see if they could determine the cause of death. As they approached the village, they heard the sound of women wailing, including Qudrat’s mother. Roscoe entered the home and saw Qudrat.

“He looked completely at peace, the sun shined perfectly on him, and he was beautiful. Hakim apologized and thanked us profusely for letting Qudrat be healthy even for that short period of time.

“This was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done—examining a dead child who was like one of my own.”

Roscoe and his colleague couldn’t reach any firm conclusion about Qudrat’s death. In his journal, he wrote, “The most likely cause is just recovery from a major surgery and then flying for 24 hours and entering this harsh environment.”

In the wake of Qudrat’s death, a devastated Roscoe listened as many people questioned and shared their anger at God.

Yet amid the heartbreak and the anger, Roscoe saw God at work. He began to notice other reactions from people whose lives had been touched by Qudrat.

The Gift of Life

Dr. Turrentine sent Roscoe a message that read, “Find me another child.”

Several days later, an Afghan couple who heard about Qudrat showed up at the Army base seeking help for their 4-year-old daughter who had a heart problem. The girl’s arrival at Riley Hospital resulted in a successful surgery and recovery—and more opportunities for other Afghan children to be treated.

Qudrat’s legacy also led to greater awareness of the “Gift of Life” program started by the Rotary clubs of central Indiana, according to Jim Graham, a member of the Rotary Club of Brownsburg.

Through “Gift of Life,” more than 170 children with life-threatening conditions have been brought to Riley from countries with limited medical care. Medical teams have also traveled overseas to treat children, and to train local doctors in performing surgeries.

In the days following Qudrat’s death, people from Indiana contributed $13,000 to his family—which became seed money for Hakim to begin a plan to honor his son. Hakim used some of the money to get an education in medicine and elementary education.

“His goal was to go back to his village and provide medical care that he never had,” Graham says. “In 2007, he gave me a handwritten letter asking for our help.”

With that help, a well has been dug to provide safe drinking water in the village.

A medical clinic has been built.

So have two schools, which serve children from five Afghan villages. And 36 percent of the students in those schools are girls—an outstanding percentage in a country where the education of females has been viewed so negatively that “the Taliban attempted to kill Hakim and blow up the school,” Graham notes. “He’s a good guy. He’s done so much out of the $13,000 he was given.”

Knowing those outcomes, Roscoe says, “Qudrat got so many people invested who became more open, who became more giving.”

Roscoe counts himself among that group. He shares a journal account that he wrote about his time in Afghanistan.

‘God gives us opportunities’

“I have seen firsthand what is capable by caring, compassion and love,” he wrote. “This is what my experience has been with joining the Army. I have spent days with Afghans, and I have eaten with them, slept with them, and talked as a father, as a son, as a brother to many. I even received pictures from Qudrat’s family of their new daughter, who was born after Qudrat died.

“I have taken care of many injured U.S. soldiers—most being kids who are serving their country. I feel the presence of God with me every day, with what I am doing in the military. Serving my country is like serving the Church. It is not a place as much as it is a community.”

Six years have passed since Roscoe wrote those words. Those feelings haven’t changed, he says.

During part of those six years, he served his country in Iraq. He’s now a lieutenant colonel in the Indiana Army National Guard. He’s also the chairperson of health sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis, where he is also the director of the physician’s assistant program.

Back home with his wife and children, he often thinks of his time in Afghanistan, his efforts for Qudrat and their long-term impact on him and his family.

“It completely shaped me,” he says. “My marriage is better. My kids are more appreciative.”

His thoughts also return to that question of faith he deeply considered 10 years ago when a desperate father showed up at an Army gate holding his son:

“Does God have a direct plan for us, or does he place opportunities in front of us to use our graces with his guidance?”

Roscoe believes he has learned the answer.

“I think God gives us opportunities, and it’s our choice to accept those opportunities. I’ve become more spiritual. My wife and I use the phrase, ‘Being bigger, being more than yourself.’

“What I take as God’s plan for us is just making a difference.” †

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