“The Taliban had separated them for questioning and made my wife stand while having contractions. They laughed at her whenever she tried to sit and yanked her to her feet. They beat my brother-in-law repeatedly with a cable whenever he tried to interfere. Finally, when it appeared my babies where ready to fall out they let my wife go to a clinic, a horrible place, to deliver. When they find out we don’t have any money, they sent my wife and babies home.” Thirty hours later, the premature twins were barely breathing. The mother, found by a neighbor, passed in and out of unconsciousness. The brother could no longer move due to his injuries. The U Medical Corps, supported by the Upperwood Foundation, crafted a plan for a food delivery truck to come to Samim’s wife’s house and pick her, the twins, and the brother up and transport them to the hospital. It was risky and had to be done under the eyes of watching Taliban. It required a distraction at the checkpoint and several men in the truck to carry to adult patients and the twins.
Christmas in the States is a time for family. We have a great routine that starts the day after Thanksgiving when we bring out our Christmas decorations. We have bins and bins that are marked Christmas #1 or Christmas #2 and then further labels detailing what’s inside. Our bins are a mish mash of colors and shapes because each year we seem to “acquire” more decorations which are now stored in a closet under the steps and in the garage because we need additional room. Christmas #1 are outside decorations and inside decorations, including Advent calendar houses for the kids to hold daily chocolates, and Christmas # 2 are more tree related things and tend to take up more space because of bubble wrap and boxes to protect fragile ornaments. We have a routine; Christmas # 1 decorations are completed by the end of weekend after Thanksgiving, and Christmas # 2 decorations are completed by the end of the first week in December.
This past Christmas was a little different. We had COVID and Afghanistan in our lives, and things were… well… focused in another direction. The U Medical Corps had launched its “Safe Delivery” program a month earlier. Supported by the Upperwood Foundation, the “Safe Delivery” program provides prenatal care and exams, safe deliveries, and post-partum care to mothers free of charge. With Afghanistan having one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world even before the Taliban took over, the Upperwood Foundation’s program is critical for pregnant women and facilitates more than thirty deliveries a week in a superb maternity hospital that rivals Western facilities.
This is the story of twins who came into the orbit of the U Medical Corps on December 20, 2021. The inquiry came from a US Army Captain in Virginia who said he had his Afghan interpreter, Samim, with him at his home. Samim’s wife, in Afghanistan, was pregnant and had problems walking because of pain. Like many women in Afghanistan, she had ceased prenatal care when the country collapsed August 15, 2021 and had not seen a doctor in months. Her husband, having worked with the American forces for more than a decade, was wanted by the Taliban.
“My wife and I went to the gates together in August hoping to get on a plane and get out of the country. Our US advisors called us several times over several days, and we went each time but could not get close to the gates. The fourth time I told my wife to stay home, and I would check it out to see if it was the same conditions. The weather was hot, no water, and chaos. She was around five months pregnant, and I didn’t want her to risk another day for nothing. So, I went to see if the crowds were any lighter. There was gunfire constantly, and people falling and running and pushing. It was insane. At one point I managed to get near the front, I explained to the US Marine that my wife was pregnant and could he hold a spot for both of us. He reached out and pulled me in. He promised me we would get my wife out. Three days later I was forced to leave. They would not let me exit the airport. They would not send someone for her. We said our good-byes over the phone.”
Samim, in Virginia, advised the U Medical Corps that his wife, in Afghanistan, needed to see a doctor for her pregnancy, but she had no money and was a pregnant woman without a husband - which is the equivalent of a death sentence under the Taliban. Her brother could act as her escort, or Mahram, but if questioned it could be problematic. The U Medical Corps, with support from the Upperwood Foundation, arranged for Samim’s wife to enter the “Safe Delivery” program and be seen for an intake exam at a maternity hospital the next day in Afghanistan. The appointment went well and to everyone’s surprise two heartbeats were heard – twins - and the OB/GYN said she should come back in 48 hours for another exam. That was the plan… but things don’t always go as planned.
It was 11:00 at night on December 22nd in Afghanistan when Samim’s wife’s water broke. Emblematic of the craziness, the wife, in Afghanistan, called her husband in Virginia, who called the U Medical Corps in New Jersey, who called the doctor in Afghanistan. The hospital had a team waiting because twins can be a challenging delivery. Samim expressed great concern, “It’s late. Taliban will stop my wife and her brother for sure. They will want to know where I am. Even if she says I am dead, they will try and look me up in biometrics.”
It was a twenty-minute drive across districts in Kabul that time of night to get Samim’s wife to the maternity hospital partnering with the U Medical Corps. Samim’s wife and her brother didn’t make it five before stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. Four men, with AK 47’s approached the car and ordered them out of the car. Samim’s brother-in-law protested and said his sister was in labor, and they needed to get to the hospital. The Taliban made him step out the car as he continued to protest and then beat him with rifle butts. Two other Taliban dragged Samim’s wife from the car and threw her to the ground.
“I didn’t know what happened to my wife. I was expecting a phone call when she got to the hospital, but I knew better than to call her, so I waited…. A little after 7:30am Afghanistan time, my brother-in-law finally called. He said the Taliban had separated them for questioning and made my wife stand while having contractions. They laughed at her whenever she tried to sit and yanked her to her feet. They beat my brother law repeatedly with a cable whenever he tried to interfere. Finally, when it appeared my babies where ready to fall out they let my wife go to a clinic, a horrible place, to deliver. When they find out we don’t have any money, they sent my wife and babies home.”
We immediately involved an OB/GYN doctor from the maternity hospital in Afghanistan to take charge of the situation. He called and asked Samim’s wife what the APGAR scores were, a scoring system at birth, and she didn’t know. It was suggested they come immediately to the maternity hospital recommended by the U Medical Corps because twins are usually problematic, come early, and require additional support. Samim’s wife explained she hurt too much to move, and her brother was unable to stand from the beating he had received. She asked if she could wait a day or two.
Christmas Eve in the States is a time of tradition. A family dinner is served, and many homes hold an open house for friends and family to visit. Depending on one’s beliefs and religion, cookies and milk are left out for Santa, maybe a carrot for the reindeer, and families read “The Night Before Christmas” to younger ones. It is a time of joyous anticipation and excitement when, “… the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
Christmas Eve came at us with a sense of dread regarding the twins. They had not eaten in the thirty plus hours since their birth, and Samim’s wife had developed a fever and explained she had torn during delivery and did not receive stitches. The U Medical Corps, with support of the Upperwood Foundation, had a phone conference with an OB/GYN at the maternity hospital in country and with an OB GYN in the States. Samim expressed he didn’t like how his wife was sounding, and she said the newborns weren’t moving much. It was agreed she would go at first light to the maternity hospital – around 11:00pm EST in the States, December 24, 2021.
A little after midnight, now the early hours of Christmas Day, Samim’s wife and the twins still had not left for the hospital, her brother could no longer walk, and a neighbor who came to check on the family said a new Taliban checkpoint had been set up two hundred meters from the house. With the brother unable to walk, Samim’s wife was an unaccompanied female, and could not travel. At 1:00am on Christmas Day, while young children in the United States were “…nestled all snug in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads” the U Medical Corps crafted a plan for a food delivery truck to come to Samim’s wife’s house and pick her, the twins, and the brother up and transport them to the hospital. It was risky and had to be done under the eyes of watching Taliban. It required a distraction at the checkpoint and several men in the truck to carry to adult patients and the twins. At 2:55am on Christmas Day, the food truck notified us all patients had been picked up and were en route to the hospital. The twins were unresponsive, barely breathing, and the mother passed in and out of unconsciousness. They arrived an hour later.
A little before sunrise Christmas Day in the US, the Medical Director of the hospital texted, “For your confirmation, both babies admitted in NICU for treatment of jaundice, low weight, birth asphyxia, malnutrition, etc. Both are very critical and on ventilators. Also, the mother has been checked by OB and GYN specialist. She has vaginal discharge, a high fever, high blood pressure due to postpartum eclampsia, and bordering on sepsis. She will also receive reconstructive treatment for a tear in her perineum during birthing process. We have sent the brother to a nearby medical complex for treatment of his injuries.”
An hour later, as our children were waking to Christmas morning and coffee was making the gurgling sound in our Cuisinart, the Medical Director sent this text, “Greetings on your Christmas Day sir. First, I have to say thank you and U Medical Corps for doing a great job to connect us with premature twins. Surely you people have done a great job. You save the life of these twins. If they had not come to the hospital, we would have lost them tonight. Thank you for loving Afghan people and your caring. As you know, most births of single babies happen at 39-40 weeks. But the average length of a twin pregnancy is 34-37 weeks. As per information, mother made her delivery at 35 weeks at a substandard hospital in Kabul, and after delivery discharged without proper postpartum care and neonatal care. The twins are premature and low birth weight with each weighing less than five pounds. When we received them last night, it was close to the end. Again, thanks to U Medical Corps. You worked hard to save their lives and get them to a hospital on time. Now they are in a NICU and receiving what will hopefully be lifesaving treatment.”
Twenty-four days later, Samim’s twins were released from the hospital. His brother, wearing a cast on one leg, and a cast on one arm, accompanied his sister. They remain trapped in Afghanistan. Samim, in Virginia, hopes to see them again someday. ∎
In partnership with The Upperwood Foundation, Awareness Ties produces and publishes the 'Hope For Afghanistan' stories written by Russ Prichard.
From delivering babies in Afghanistan to delivering supplies sent from the U.S., Russ Pritchard delivers hope to the people of Afghanistan. While he would say he’s just a glorified telephone operator, he’s so much more. He runs the U Medical Corps, bringing help and hope to those unseen and unheard.
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