Image: Baby Noor
John Bazemore  /  AP file
Baby Noor is held by her grandmother as they arrive at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
updated 1/9/2006 1:55:34 PM ET 2006-01-09T18:55:34

The Iraqi infant known as Baby Noor underwent surgery Monday for her spinal birth defects, and doctors said the operation, the first of at least three, went well.

Three-month-old Noor al-Zahra, who was born with spina bifida, was “doing well” and was in recovery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said hospital spokesman Kevin McClelland.

Doctors have said little Noor, who arrived in the United States on Dec. 31, would have died without treatment, and will probably need to use a wheelchair even if the operations are a success.

The infant’s grandmother and father cried “tears of joy and relief when they learned she was out of surgery and in recovery,” said Helen Shepard of Childspring International, the group that provided a host family for them and will arrange medical care when Noor gets back to Iraq.

“They are just feeling so blessed that things went well,” Shepard said. “They never expected so much help from the U.S. Army.”

Dr. Martha Wilkins, the surgery team’s pediatric anesthesiologist, said the three-hour operation was “straightforward.”

“She was very stable and things went just like we expected them to,” Wilkins said. “It’s a very complex procedure but one that we do very frequently.”

Hospital officials said more details will be released at a late-day news conference.

Baby Noor was discovered several weeks ago by U.S. troops raiding a house in Abu Ghraib, a poverty-stricken district in Iraq west of Baghdad. The soldiers noticed paralysis in the baby’s legs and what appeared to be a tumor on her back.

In spina bifida, the backbone and spinal cord fail to close before birth. The tumor the soldiers saw was actually a fluid-filled sac containing part of the baby’s spinal cord and membranes that are supposed to cover the spinal cord.

One of the soldiers, Lt. Jeff Morgan, e-mailed a friend in Douglasville who is a social worker. They enlisted the help of a variety of officials and social service organizations. Through those efforts, Noor, her grandmother and her father were brought to the United States late last month.

In Monday’s surgery, doctors had planned to place her spinal cord in its proper place down the center of the back and cover it with muscle and other tissue.

Children’s Healthcare is providing treatment for free. The surgery and accompanying care would cost about $200,000 if it were billed, officials have said.

Doctors have said they were worried about how well the girl will be monitored for complications after she returns to Iraq later this year.

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