This will be a really incredible year for all of those who work and volunteer for the International Children’s Heart Foundation. We have been a little cryptic in announcing this year’s schedule but you can now find it posted on the web page at www.babyheart.org. A summary of our anticipated schedule for this year is Iraq- three cities, Nasiriyah, Najaf and Basra. We will spend a total of 41 weeks in Iraq and there is the possibility this could increase to as many as 53 weeks if our next 1 Year Program is approved for Najaf by the Iraqi Ministry of Health; Libya- our program in Benghazi continues, in the first half of the year we will be there 4 weeks, and if our 1 Year Program is approved we will spend another 16 weeks there later in the year. Kharkiv, Ukraine- this is one of our longest running programs currently and we will be in Kharkiv for 7 weeks this year. Honduras- 8 weeks. Santiago, Dominican Republic- Starting our 8th year there and this year we plan 8 weeks there again. Also in the Dominican Republic we are opening OUR OWN HEART CENTER in Jimani, which will serve the children of Haiti and the children of DR who live in this remote corner, 8 weeks are planned there! Ecuador, our Guayaquil program continues with at least 8 weeks in-country and perhaps 10 if the Ministry approves our new proposal. We are adding Macedonia this year, and plan to spend 8 weeks in Skopje. Russia- Our program in Kemerovo continues with 4 trips planned for a total of 8 weeks there also. We have two other sites that we have not finalized yet for this year, Paraguay and Egypt. If we spend the time planned for these two we will be in Paraguay twice for 1 week each and Egypt twice for two weeks each time.
Not sure about you, but I lost count of exactly how many weeks we have jammed into one year, but it is way over 52! Help us help the children of the world with heart disease, visit www.babyheart.org and make a donation, everyone of every size counts towards a child’s heart!
– William Novick, MD
Click below for our Cause page and to view/post stories about the ICHF medical director. Then check out the link below to the Real Awards page to vote for Dr. Novick!
ICHF Babyheart medical missions, new Executive Dir. Terry Carter, and Dr. Christian Gilbert were featured in a recent article in the Memphis Daily News. Click below to read.
By ICHF guest blogger and medical volunteer, Sigurdur Stephensen
We are standing by the side of the road in the desert and staring into the distance. The sand is grayer than I had expected, somewhat grayish yellow and it stretches as far as the eye can see. No camels, no donkeys, no Beduin tents. Only this straight road like a pencil mark on a grey piece of paper. Outside it is 20 degrees Celcius and I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to travel here wearing a fleece jacket.
We are waiting for the police escort that was supposed to follow us from the airport in Basra to our destination in Nasiriyah. In Basra we had only been greeted by two bearded guys dressed in suits. I travelled together with Don, a perfusionist from Chicago, who is here for the second time. He recognized one of the men – Ahmed – from his previous trip. Ahmed walked straight up to Don, kissed him on both cheeks and said: “I love you.“ Don looked rather surprised by this warm welcome. I on the other hand received no kisses and no confessions of love. Then we headed in to the desert in an old van. After half an hours driving the police called and wondered where the hell we were.
We bend down and look at the small stones by our feet. Their surface is smooth as if it’s been polished, which is excactly what it has been. Sand polished for centuries. I throw a green stone into the sand. Now is the religious festival of Shia muslims in Iraq, when pilgrims march to the city of Karballah to remember the death of Hussein ibn Ali, who was a cousin of the prophet Mohammed. Because of recent bombings directed against the pilgrims, many of them walk all dressed in white, like a burial shroud, so they will be ready in case they die on their journey. I mention the bombings to Don. He had heard on his last mission that often the terrorists aren’t necessarily looking for a specific target. They just go out driving on the roads and wait until they find a target worth blowing up. “Like a couple of a whities” I think to myself. “Two representatives of the coalition of the willing, who stand sweating by the side of the road.” Despite the fleece jacket and the heat outside this new information gives me shivers down my spine. I just want to crawl back into the van. Maybe hide under the backseat.
International Children’s Heart Foundation and moral speculations
We have come to Iraq as part of a team from the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) (www.babyheart.org). This organization was founded by Dr. William Novick, a pediatric heart surgeon from Memphis, TN. The aim is to treat children with congenital heart defects in the developing countries and train the local staff so they can, in due time, acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to treat the children without external help. In the year 2011 thirty two missions were organized by ICHF to twelve countries where 450 heart operations were performed. In 2012 the number of operations doubled. I discovered the organizations, like ICHF online and went for my first medical mission to Honduras in October, 2010. Honduras is a poor country in central America that was hit by hurricane Mitch in 1998. Five thousand people lost their lives, 33000 houses and 70% of the roads were destroyed. In the beginning I couldn’t decide wether to join these highly specialized help organizations, or some other that focus on more common health problems. Diseases like congenital heart defects are highly specialized and the treatment is expensive. A heart operation done by ICHF costs on average $2500, which is much more than the treatment of other more common and serious diseases – such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria – although, in comparison to the Western world, these operations are relatively cheap.
Back to Iraq
We drive from the guarded guest house, a kind of “safe house”, to the hospital with police escort. Blue lights, sirens and loaded machine guns. I think the escort draws unneccessary attention and people stop in the streets to watch. I would have preferred walking to work. Or riding a donkey. Dressed in burqa. But I get used to the false sense of security and now it’s time to go to work. But it all starts pretty miserably. In the first operation an eleven year old boy dies. He came from the Kurdish region and was basically asymptomatic when he arrived for an operation for a ventricular septal defect and aortic stenosis. The following day a two and a half year old girl is operated for an atrioventricular septal defect. The operation goes well but during the night she develops pulmonary hypertension that does not respond to intensive treatment. Heart operations in the developing countries often pose increased risk in many senses. The children often have lived with their heart defect for a long time which has created additional problems such as pulmonary hypertension (PHT) and since they are often malnourished they are more vulnerable in the perioperative period. Secondly the knowledge and experience of the local staff is limited which increases the risk for mistakes. The general treatment customary in most pediatric intensive care units in the Western world can often not be provided. Medicines such as nitric oxide, used for PHT, and extra corporal membrane oxygenation is generally not available.
After the difficulties of the first days things start getting better. We suffer no major incidents even though two children have to be reoperated. My job is to examine the children pre- and postoperatively, do echocardiography and take part in deciding which child will need an operation this time and which one can wait. It is evident that we are only going to be able to treat a fraction of the long waiting list. We operate on 15-20 children in two weeks, but each year 30,000 children are born in Iraq with a heart defect that will need an operation.
Teaching and training of the local staff is a big part of our job. The doctors usually speak good english but the nurses and other staff usually do not. The nursing staff are almost exclusively men and often they have not chosen their profession themselves. Therefore not everyone is in the profession because of interest or vision which can be reflected in how receptive they are to our teaching. I try to share my knowledge but I also learn a great deal myself. In Western countries congenital heart defects are usually detected in the first months of life and the patients that require surgery are operated within a few months of birth, or before they develop a lot of symptoms. Therefore, we seldom see the longtime effects of an untreated heart defect. For instance, when I was in Honduras I saw a 7 month old child with transposition of the great arteries, which generally is repaired within a few days of birth in the West.
Iraq was never hit by a natural catastrophe like Honduras. Perhaps more like a man-made catastrophy. But the prize was much higher. The tornado Saddam Hussein created didn’t just blow over the country in a few days – he had 24 years to go about obliterating his own people. The only pediatric cardiologist in Nasiriyah – and one of only ten pediatric cardiologist in the whole country of 30 million people – put it rather mildly the other day. He said: “The main problem of this country is that it has never had a decent leader!“ As long as I can remember Iraq has been at war. I remember recurrent news of casualties in the Iran-Iraq war, that led to nothing in a nine years period (1980-1988), than one million fallen soldiers. Next on the program was the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and ongoing use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq. And then came the invasion of the West in Iraq in 2003 with the unprecedented participation of Iceland as one of the parties in the so called “coalition of the willing”. The last soldiers from that miserable mission left the country about a month before our arrival. I had expected to meet people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after decades of fighting and fear of suicide bombing, that have escalated after the evacuation of the American soldiers. On the contrary I met positive, smiling and brave people who didn’t look as if they had endured fear, suppression and war for decades. After repeatedly asking a local pediatrician about the effect of the fighting and the insecurity on daily life, he admitted that war had probably become a part of daily life for the Iraqi people. A help organisation member from America, Preemptive Love Coalition, who originally brought ICHF to Iraq, stated that the first months after the invasion in 2003, foreigners were greeted as friends and invited into peoples’ homes, even if they were total strangers. But as the occupation dragged on and there were no major improvements the hospitality of the locals declined. Now they are more careful and avoid associating with foreigners.
But Saddam Hussein can’t proclaim all the honour of Iraq’s miserable health system. In that matter the United Nations (UN) have a heavy cross to bear. Before the year 1990, 93% of the Iraqi people had access to a health system that was among the best in the Middle-East. After the invasion of Kuwait the UN put sanctions on Iraq and as a result the economic status, as well as the health system, plummeted. Saddam Hussein restricted expenses to health system by 90%. Hospitals and outpatient clinics were closed, there was a shortage of medicine and medical equipment and health personnel fled abroad. The incidence of congenital defects escalated as did malignancy amongst children and adults. This is believed to be the effect of the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in Northern Iraq, where the incidence of congenital heart defects has multiplied. But the sanctions of the UN also directly affected the people’s health status. Child mortality, under five years of age, doubled from the year 1989 to 1999. Many died of hunger. Maternal malnutrition and failing maternal care also increased the incidence of congenital defects. When the willing nations invaded the country in 2003, the weapons were used against the main pillars of society such as roads, power stations, water supplies, sewers and health institutions. So-called depleted uranium was used in the warheads. This is a radioactive metal with a prolonged halftime. The dust from the explosion, which is thought to be carcinogenic, becomes dispersed in the atmosphere and settles in the soil. Thus the incidence of many malignant diseases has increased at the same time that the means for diagnoses and treatment has diminished. Actions, such as the sanctions used by the UN, reflect the deficiency of the organizations, their naive view of the world and the indifference for the real consequences caused by these actions.
End of the road
In our trip to Iraq seventeen children underwent heart operations on defects such as ventricular septal defect, transposition of the great arteries, tetralogy of Fallot, atrioventricular septal defect, aortic stenosis, double outlet right ventricle, subvalvular aortic stenosis, single ventricle and persistent arterial duct. Two children needed reoperation and two children died. A few children that had waited in the hospital for two weeks for surgery could not be operated this time. Hopefully they will be first on the list when the next mission arrives in three months.
Three days before our departure reporters from several TV stations arrived at the hospital. They were informed about the purpose of the mission and interviewed some of the staff. To keep a low profile this was not supposed to take place until the last day. When one of the chief physicians was asked why they had changed the schedule, and if this wouldn’t jeopardize our safety, he replied: “Don’t worry. You are low value targets.”
Early one morning in late January we are two low value targets – one from Iceland and the other from Belarus – sitting in the back of an old van driving along the same pencil mark as before. We are on our way to the airport. It’s still pitch dark and we are freezing in the back. This time I am glad that I brought the fleece jacket with me. The driver is drowsy and it looks to me that he is about to fall asleep at the wheel under a full moon. I keep an eye on him in the rear view mirror. We lag behind the police escort and when we finally catch up with them the drivers get into a heated argument. That’s all good because our man is suddenly wide awake. Gradually the day awakens and the desert sand gets a reddish hue in the morning sun. The Iraqi nation is at a crossroads. In some aspects it is like a man waiting by the side of the road in the desert. The invaders are gone, at least for the time being and the people have their own government and president. However, down under is disagreement and hatred between groups of Shia muslims, Sunni muslims and the Kurds, that has been boiling for centuries. I certainly hope that the people will make the right decisions and choose to have peaceful communications with their fellow countrymen and neighbours. And also that the nations that represented the coalition of the willing, now live up to their expectations and prove that the reason for the invasion in 2003 was really concern for the Iraqi people and not something completely different. That can be done by supporting help organizations like the International Children‘s Heart Foundation in this war-torn country.
Dr. William Novick, ICHF Founder and Medical Director, operated on Reynerio Romero in October, 2006 in Nicaragua. The procedure Dr. Novick performed then to keep him alive was an atrial switch for Transposition of the Great Arteries. Now he is in school, studying well and playing with friends. The family has kept in touch with Dr. Novick and ICHF staff heart surgeon in Nicaragua, Dr. Kathleen Fenton, and always sends pics so we can watch Reynerio grow and thrive, leading the full life of a child.
Juan Pablito, as he is affectionately called, needed a pacemaker during a September Babyheart Mission. He had been waiting a long time and for three months never saw the outside of a hospital. The ICHF medical volunteers took him for a walk to get some fresh air and movement. He received his pacemaker in Guayaquil and experienced some difficulty as he clung to life and the medical staff worked valiantly to keep him alive. His body adjusted to the pacemaker and now he paid a visit to the Babyheart team on their latest trip to Guayaquil in November-December. He is happy, grateful, and full of life. Our team members, such as Frank Molloy and Becca Davenport were so happy to see him.
Juan and Reynerio’s stories are the rewards of your continuing donations. Continue to give to ICHF and continue to spread smiles like these!
“When I was a girl, the oath we took said – in part – ‘May fire rain down on America’. I didn’t want to say it. I’d lived in America and had friends there. I was nine, so the teachers let it slide. They didn’t believe it either. Had I been in high school I would have been punished.” Madia, an anesthesiologist resident told me. She continued to talk about the revolution, her eyes coming alive, “It was the best time of our lives! There was such solidarity. We all came together.”
Now the US – along with France, Turkey, Qatar, and the UK – are considered friends of the revolution. The flags of the countries can be seen in the graffiti that covers nearly every vertical surface in the city. A careful student of 21st century American foreign policy might note that this in not always the case with the nations we try the ‘help’.
A hated tyrant was ousted, without invasion or intrusive nation building, and a loose group of put-upon citizens were able to take their country back. Libyans are grateful for the help, as well as, in the end, being allowed to drive their own revolution. And why not? People and societies must own their victories, or they aren’t really victories.
To that end, taking care of your own children is written into the operational model of the ICHF. Certainly the care for the children is a part of the mission, but the true endgame is creating a sustainable model for a pediatric cardiac unit that works: Writing protocols and technical training to international standards as well as working within the cultural framework of the host country. It is crucial distinction that separates the ICHF mission from the medical safaris. They no doubt to good work and save lives, but when they head back to their comfortable lives, no much more gets done. When ICHF volunteers head back to their comfortable lives, they know that they have left not only a mark, but that mark is part of building a sustainable solution.
The importance of this cannot be overstated – people must own their victories to get anything out of them: the systems must make sense the to the doctors and nurses and all the others who use them. They must take pride in it for it to work. Without pride and a sense of ownership of the many volunteers and supporters of the International Children’s Heart Foundation, it wouldn’t work either.
ICHF Associate Medical Director, Dr. Christian Gilbert, was preparing to fly to Basra, Iraq to begin a new program of Babyheart medical missions there when he had to take a detour. There was an emergency waiting in Kharkiv, Ukraine and Christian answered the call. A one-week-old child named Michael had a transposition of the great arteries and a VSD. He underwent an emergency balloon septostomy and needed an arterial switch procedure. Below is Dr. Gilbert’s account of the trip and the remarkable progress of Dr. Olga Buchneva. This account exemplifies what a Babyheart Mission is all about: a healed heart, a surgeon taught.
I performed this with Dr. Olga Buchneva, a local surgeon trained by the ICHF staff. She has done one before with my help and did not feel comfortable doing it on her own. So a call went out to ICHF for a surgeon to come and help Olga and it turned out I was going in that direction to Iraq. So arrangements were made for me to fly to Kharkiv a few days early. After some early trouble and flight delays I arrived at 2am, Friday morning. The team was doing an adult emergency which finished as I was arriving. We all got some good rest and started the switch procedure around 10:30 the following morning and finished at 2:30pm. The operation went very smoothly as if Olga had done hundreds! I was so proud of her. The baby is in excellent condition in the ICU and the team is gathering for some food and refreshments as I write this. After the baby we did a 6 year old girl with a very rare coronary artery aneurysm and fistula who had had several attempts to close in the cath lab without success. In surgery the fistula was closed off bypass and she is recovering nicely. All in all it has been a very productive trip. I will send more on the remarkable progress I have observed in Kharkiv.
To give some perspective. I first came to Kharkiv in 2009 and at that time the only cases being done on kids were when ICHF teams were here. And the cases were simple ASDs and VSDs. Today I saw the schedule for next week, no ICHF team, and there were 10 cases on the list, most if not all were kids. That is huge. The volume of complex adult cases being done is increasing by leaps and bounds, most of them by Olga, which will only help her be a better congenital heart surgeon. The ICU was caring for 7 patients and was doing so without any help, really cool.
Today’s case, done entirely by Olga, was amazing. The baby was in the ICU 5 hours after starting, chest closed, no bleeding, looking fine. Really impressive. This is truly an ICHF success story if there was ever was one. And I am so thankful to be a very small part of it.
– Dr. Christian Gilbert, Associate Medical Director, ICHF
Almotasim’s cousin told us that the patient was an active boy. Colette, the Canadian ICU nurse, assured him that the 12 year old was about to be a lot more active.
At about eight thirty the previous evening, Almotasim had come up to the ICU from surgery with the usual array of kit and tubing snaking out of his chest and throat and was extubated in short order by the night shift. This was followed by a thankfully uneventful night.
A crucial part of the training the ICHF provides its hosts goes beyond immediate issues like, Exactly how does one repair an ASD? And Just what does extubate mean and how or why is it done? Other, less obvious details – like how to manage patient lists to keep the required number of beds in the ICU open – are also important, even crucial. To perform four complex surgeries that will likely require long post-op stays in the ICU, will create a bottleneck with the limited beds available for the next day’s patients. These are the sorts of management details that can often make the difference in a successful program.
Nine days into the Benghazi mission, after a few surprises and a one-day break from surgery, the ICU was very full. So it was with great relief, both to the ICHF staff and, presumably to Almotasim, that he was ready to leave for the pediatric ward after 20 hours. Which is the goal for ICHF pioneered Fast-Track Recovery program. It is a hard and fast rule of Fast Track that no patient who could walk into the hospital leaves the ICU under anything but his own steam. If a child needs to be carried out, he isn’t ready.
The boy was still dazed from his ordeal, granted, but he got out of bed and wasn’t particularly interested in getting back in. He and Colette took a walk down the long hallway and back, at which point he picked up that he was being transferred out of the ICU. Which in and of itself was welcome news, but he grew concerned about the modest amount of swag he’d accumulated. Could he take it with him?
The ICHF nurses traditionally pack small treats for the children: coloring books, blow-ticklers, small toys for their charges. Lindy, a South African born perfusionist working in Holland, brought a bag of stuffed animals with her. Almotasim had grown attached to his lion, and who can blame him? Once he’d cleared up the matter of taking his animal up to the ward, and facing the prospect of getting back into bed, the boy opted for another walk. Then he said goodbye to the other 12 year old in the ICU, with whom he’d made friends.
He went up about mid afternoon, where his cousin walked with us up to the pediatric ward – decorated with Disney characters and other American cartoons – where his parents and little brother were waiting. Almotasim was pleased to be getting out of the ICU, and a little less pleased to be getting plopped into another bed – but if it had to happen, at least he was going to have a decent roommate. He asked about getting his friend sent up to the neighboring bed. Colette said she talk to someone about it.
So what does the future hold for our friend Almotasim? He’s an active kid with a strong heart; he’s loyal to his friends – even the stuffed ones – and has the good sense stay in bed even when he doesn’t feel like it. He seems to ask for what he wants in life, and is a hair stubborn about it. Well, apart from aggravating his parents for the next few years, he’s going to be just fine.
FREEDOM is spray painted, in English, on nearly every wall in Benghazi. It’s all over the walls in the countryside as well. The Arad world is very fond of walls, so that is a lot of spray paint. Arabic graffiti abounds, but some 40% of the slogans denouncing Gaddafi, screaming freedom and the hope that is the new Libya, are in English. On a drive out to the Biblical city of Cyrene, I asked a young man I’ll call Ahmed why the graffiti was in English.
“We want the broadcast our message, the new Libya, to the world – not just to the Arabs, but to the whole world.”
“I thought Gaddafi struck English from the school curriculum. Who can read it?”
He thought about this, “We learned.”
Ahmed is a pilot in training in Tripoli. He has an idea for an invention in the aerospace field and is learning English himself, not to spray paint on walls, but to go to the US or Canada to produce his invention. Libya is moving ahead, but not fast enough for him. “Do you plan to stay in the West?”
“No, I’ll bring it back to Libya.”
He is a young man and this entrepreneurial attitude is new among Libyans who left their country or dismissed it as hopeless during the Gaddafi regime. Since the revolution of 2011, hope and pride abounds. Pay for doctors has increased literally tenfold, to bring it to a level that is still not quite competitive, but the gap has narrowed. If the Libyan citizenry is still relatively poor, the country is rich. They can afford the new pay-grade and are investing in themselves. There is more to a first rate medical center than simply buying it. It is a matter of training, procedure and practice. For the ICHF, missions to places like Libya filled with the hope and desire to make the most of their resources are heartening. For Libyans, their world changed on February 17th, it opened up and a great many things suddenly became possible.
Hope may spring eternal, it may overcome all, but the fact of the matter is that it is very, very fragile. Freedom is not easy. Its most glorious aspect is also its most dangerous: it is exactly what you make of it. Libyan driving – bad by the lively standards of the Arab street – is a little too free, making it largely an exercise in faith and tightly calculated physics. In downtown Benghazi, shell blasted buildings still stand amid an alarming amount of the rubble. Libyans talk about a blooming tourism industry but to that they are going to need a broom. Still, the war damage is being repaired at an impressive rate for a nation that doesn’t have a permanent government.
There are those, few but out there, who are nostalgic for the old regime. They say that it was, if nothing else, stable. Which was true if you didn’t have political opinions or ambition. It is true that freedom is a messy affair. Churchill was right when he said that democracy was the worst form of government other than every thing else that’s been tried.
Self-determination is hard work when it’s old hat, when it’s is new it can be brutally traumatic. It leaves scars. It requires people to believe that a risky common goal can be achieved, and for everyone to do their part to make it happen.
The same can be said for open-heart surgery. You should see these once hopeless children immediately post-op. It is raw and aggravated and heart wrenching and just plain gruesome. Then consider the alternative.
Despite the heroic efforts of a shoestring staff in Memphis, it often appears that these Babyheart missions are held together by luck and, to channel Blanche Dubois, the kindness of strangers. The trick to a successful mission isn’t just the doctors, nurses combined with the competence and enthusiasm of our hosts. Sometimes it is an unexpected cocktail of little things we take for granted.
I’ve never been in a hospital, for example, that ran out of gauze pads or pain killers, and for that matter, neither have you. To that end, Martina Panvanic in the Memphis headquarters asked Janine Evans, ICU nurse and the Benghazi mission’s coordinator, to put out the call for supplies. A team email went out and volunteers from Australia, Canada, Belarus, Holland and the US asked their respective hospitals for “disposables” to bring with them. Leaving from Memphis as I was, Martina gave me a huge black duffle that weighed in at 26 kilos.
Traveling with the marauding doctors and nurses of the ICHF is a good way to meet people you wouldn’t normally run across. Granted, most of them are medical professionals, or at someone who desperately needs their help. Every once in a while, though, you get a hail or some help from completely unexpected places, like from behind the counter at an airport gate.
The first leg of my flight to Detroit was delayed long enough to ensure that I’d miss the connection to Paris. The fellow working the Delta counter, Larry, started to do the math to see how to reroute me. “I’ve got a checked bag I can’t lose.” I said, which I’m sure is something he hears eight times a day.
“Describe the bag.”
“You could park a car in it.” I started to say you could fit a body in it but the modern airport is a place with little to no sense of humor. I couldn’t recall any Fiat-in-a-bag terror plots.
“What’s in it?”
“Donated medical supplies.”
“Why are you going to Benghazi with a massive duffle of donated medical supplies?”
It’s a fair question in this day and age, and not one that is answered quickly. I launched into ICHF pitch and the weird perimeters of a Babyheart mission. Larry gave me a determined look, “Pediatric cardiac surgery, huh? I had three open-heart surgeries before the age of 12. Don’t worry, we’ll get your bags there.” Larry turned to the Delta lady beside him, “What’s the number for Salt Lake?”
“That’s the wrong direction.” I pointed out helpfully. He held up a finger in the universal signal that I should stop being helpful.
I was rerouted to a flight that was about to leave for Minneapolis/St. Paul that was scheduled land about five minutes after my connection to Paris was to start boarding. Even on this tight schedule, our approach was delayed as we circled the airport overhead while another plane lingered on the runway.
With fifteen minutes before my next take off, I set off in a mad dash through the airport to the connecting gate. This, I’m sure, was hilarious as I’m built for comfort, not speed. At the gate a Delta employee looked up and fairly screamed, “Mr. Murff!” She more or less pushed me into the plane.
Within a few minutes I was in the air and on my way to Paris. Anyone who travels at all know that if you hustle you can occasionally make a flight by the skin of your teeth. Your luggage is rarely so lucky. And now I had eight whole hours to think about this development.
We landed on time at Charles De Gaulle airport, which is very French: sleek, good-looking, and utterly convoluted. It’s a wildly held belief among Americans who watch too much television that you can see the Eiffel Tower from every window in Paris. This is wrong. I ambled through CDG, found my gate, and asked the stylish clerk about my baggage. “It is here at the airport.” She said with a pretty smile. “Is there a problem?”
“Not at all.”
The bag, and everything in it, made it to Istanbul and onto our final flight into Benghazi…where it was impounded for several hours for no good reason. But that’s hardly Larry’s fault. I’ve really got to thank him.