updated 4/15/2005 3:24:45 AM ET 2005-04-15T07:24:45

An Afghan toddler sent to the United States for surgery to repair a life-threatening heart condition died in his father’s arms Friday, two days after his joyful return home, the U.S. military announced.

Sixteen-month-old Qudratullah Wardak died at home in a refugee village outside the capital, Kabul, the military said. He had been treated at a children’s hospital in Indianapolis after U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the Rotary Club organization learned of his condition and his family’s inability to find specialized care.

“This is a very sad day,” the military statement said. “So many people, literally from around the world, came together to help this young Afghan boy.”

The boy’s death came as a surprise. Only Wednesday, he and his father were escorted by American troops back to their family tent in a muddy refugee camp next to an Afghan military barracks.

More than 100 adults and children from the camp were waiting and applauded wildly when the boy’s father, Hakim Gul Wardak, emerged from a pickup truck clutching the boy, who looked plump and healthy.

Cause of death unknown
The cause of the boy’s death was not known, said Capt. Lisa Kopczynski, a National Guard spokeswoman in Indianapolis.

“Unfortunately, the Afghan culture does not allow for autopsies, so they are unable to officially determine the cause of death,” she said.

The boy’s long journey began in September, when an Indiana National Guard doctor examined him at the camp and found multiple heart defects, the worst being the reversal of the heart’s main blood vessels that stunted the baby’s growth.

He weighed about as much as a typical 5-month-old when he arrived in the United States in late February.

The child and his father had stayed in Indianapolis with a member of the Rotary Club, which helped cover the estimated $100,000 cost of the surgery. He underwent surgery at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis on March 8.

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