California's Shriners hospital gives medical help to 6 Iraqi girls

The children of the war zone gathered around a small table at Shriners hospital on Monday, and did what little girls all over the world do:

They played with their dolls.

Ruaa, age 8, put a stethoscope to her baby's heart. Sarah, 5, attached fake electrodes to her doll's chest. Aya, 10, drew a smile on her tiny patient's cloth face.

Gleeful yelps and laughter rippled across the second floor of the gleaming Sacramento hospital and resonated across the globe.

Six girls, all from Iraq, are in Sacramento for treatment of burns and orthopedic problems that cannot be treated in their homeland, where the medical system has been ravaged. Thanks to Shriners and a nonprofit group called Children in Need International, the girls are getting some of the best care that America has to offer, for free.

"Chokran," said Aya's mother, Nawel, over and over, as she watched her daughter at play on Monday. Thank you. Thank you.

The Iraqis, whom The Bee is not fully naming because of safety risks in their country, are here in large part because of Brenda McFerrin, an American in South Carolina, whose mission is to help children in medical crisis.

McFerrin began coordinating care for Iraqi children after her husband, Dan, who works for military contractor ECC in that country, encountered a young girl who was severely injured by insurgent mortar fire. The McFerrins, working with ECC, the National Iraqi Assistance Center and various charities, brought the girl to Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California for emergency care and treatment.

"I was here for three weeks with them, and then I went home and started my charity," said Brenda McFerrin, a feisty former child development specialist and preschool teacher who has two children and three grandchildren of her own.

"I was totally out of my element," she said. "I had no clue what I was doing." But somehow, it worked.

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