By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/28/2007 5:34:03 PM ET 2007-02-28T22:34:03

At first, we saw what looked like a tiny bundle of bloody rags rushed into the Baghdad combat hospital. Then we saw her face.

How old is she? The report is 5.

The little Iraqi girl had been playing near her house when an insurgent's random mortar shell landed next to her. It blew off her foot, mangled an arm and sent shrapnel into her intestine. By luck, a U.S. patrol with medics had been passing by.

At first, they doubted the girl could be saved, but they worked hard to save her — two teams of surgeons working as one.

The next day, after the injuries, the girl is alive and doctors say she has a fighting chance.

Her mother manages to find her. We can't show the mom's face because she fears sectarian reprisals for seeking help from Americans. She says the girl's name is Emam.

Her left leg has been amputated and her arm requires several complex surgeries to ever work again. The big question: Where does she go next?

She could be transferred, like most Iraqi patients, to an overcrowded civilian hospital. But Col. James McLane, a pediatric anesthesiologist from Honolulu, says she would end up crippled at best.

"In a society like this one, that's going to very seriously limit her options," he says.

A fighting chance
So the staff, including Dr. McLane and intensive care unit nurse Maj. Angela Stone, who usually works at the Army hospital in Germany but volunteered to be here, fight to hold on to Emam.

"It can be hard," says Stone. "It can be hard to see them injured. It's sad to see any of them — adults, children — to see them injured. The kids tend to pull at the heart strings a little bit more."

They contact Suzanne Tetreault of the National Iraqi Assistance Center, a U.S.-funded unit that tries to get charity help for a few Iraqis.

"[Emam] happened to be in the right place at the right time," says Tetreault, "and so maybe we'll be able to receive treatment for her."

This time it works. The Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., agrees to perform her rehabilitation.

Jim McFerrin, whose company ECC has made a lot of money building U.S. bases in Iraq, pays for the trip.

"This is just a child, and if you can help a child, what else can you do?" he asks. "This is what we're supposed to do."

The staff lines up as Emam leaves. They are rewarded with a kiss and a smile, knowing they gave one child a second chance at life.

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