Afghan girl undergoes surgery in Oceanside

A 6-year-old girl was brought to South Nassau Communities Hospital for surgery after she was shot in the head by the Taliban in her native Afghanistan. Videojournalist: Jim Staubister (Dec. 21, 2012)

A 6-year-old Afghan girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban after witnessing the execution of her father and younger brother is recovering from surgery at South Nassau Communities Hospital that repaired her face and allowed her to breathe through her nose.

Clutching a toy unicorn and blowing kisses to onlookers, Marizeh, who lost her right eye in the ambush in her remote Afghan village, smiled Friday as a nurse carried her down the steps of the Oceanside hospital before the reconstructive surgery. Marizeh's last name was withheld to protect her family.

The procedure was performed by Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh, president of Mission: Restore of Garden City. The nonprofit provides free plastic surgery to children in war-torn regions throughout the world.

The surgery involved removing scar tissue from Marizeh's nasal passage and grafting skin and cartilage from her ear to her nose. Without the procedure, Marizeh's face would be unable to grow and expand vertically, Alizadeh said.

"Our goal is to allow her to breathe, to be comfortable and allow her face to grow," said Alizadeh, who noted that the surgery typically would cost $50,000 to $100,000. Alizadeh is president of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, which has offices on Long Island and in New York City.

Marizeh's family was ambushed by the Taliban more than a year ago as they traveled in their car. Marizeh's father tried to shield her but she was discovered and shot in the left cheek. She was left to die before being discovered three hours later, Alizadeh said. Her father and 3-year-old brother were murdered.

The bullet exited Marizeh's right temple, causing the loss of her right eye. U.S. doctors have since implanted a prosthetic eye.

With surgeons in Afghanistan unable to repair Marizeh's injuries, she was brought to the United States by the Global Medical Relief Fund of Staten Island, which assists young victims of wars and disasters.

Elisa Montanti, founder and director of the Relief Fund, said Marizeh does not remember her trauma but "does know that she is having surgery and that she is going to be better."

Marizeh, who enjoys pizza and French fries, does not speak English but communicates with doctors and nurses through charades, Montanti said. She will return to Afghanistan in a few weeks to live with her mother but is expected to return to South Nassau in the next two years for a follow-up visit.

Also Friday, doctors from St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill announced that two children from Kosovo, Aurora Volkshi, 16, and Dionit Sahiti, 7, had successful procedures to repair congenital heart defects that caused serious breathing problems.

Doctors in the war-torn region could not perform the surgery and they were brought to the U.S. by Gift of Life International, a Great Neck-based nonprofit that funded the operations. The group also held a Sweet 16 celebration at the hospital for Volkshi.

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