LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A little girl thousands of miles away from home has found her favorite spot in Louisville. Leyan Albazzour, 9, loves Waterfront Park and lights up when she gets to run on the playground and go down the slides. Louisville's Waterfront Park is nothing like the playgrounds in her native city of Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank that experiences frequent political unrest. Coming to the U. S. has been a culture shock for her and her mother, Montaha Albazzour.
Both mother and daughter came to Louisville for help. Leyan was born with Apert syndrome, a rare genetic defect in which the skull and facial bones are underdeveloped. The skull prematurely fuses and is unable to grow large enough for the brain. The condition also causes the fingers and toes to be deformed.
Three years ago, Montaha and Leyan came across Dr. Ian Mutchnick, a pediatric neurosurgeon. Dr. Mutchnick spends most of his days saving young lives at Norton Children's Hospital. In 2015, he was donating his time to provide free neurosurgical care to kids in Ramallah. That's when he met Leyan at a clinic.
"They never gave up on finding treatment for her," Arabic interpreter Bashar Masri said. Masri is a translator for Montaha.
Leyan needed surgery when she was one year old, but the medical attention she needed wasn't available in the West Bank. The lack of treatment put immense pressure on her brain, causing developmental delays and pain. If Leyan didn't get help soon, the condition would eventually kill her.
"Leyan was in a tough spot," Dr. Mutchnick said. "Her brain was growing but her skull wasn't."
Dr. Mutchnick examined Leyan. It was clear she needed help, but the type of surgery was far too complicated to perform in Ramallah.
"Still, we had to do something," Dr. Mutchnick said. "I couldn't just leave her in this state."
Dr. Mutchnick teamed with Scott Rapp, M.D., plastic surgeon at Norton Children's Hospital, to get Leyan the care she needed. They developed a treatment plan and got donations for the surgical equipment. Norton Children's Hospital offered space. Other doctors, nurses and specialists also jumped in to help.
The Kentucky chapter of Healing the Children, which reviews and manages Norton Children's international charity cases, and the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF) made arrangements for Leyan and Montaha's visas, flights, transportation and interpreter for their three-month stay.
"We are determined as individuals to help children who can not help themselves," Debi Mcdonald of the Kentucky Chapter of Healing the Children said.
Leyan recently underwent a cranial vault expansion surgery.
"We basically made a router, and detach the back of her skull to make this whole thing mobile," Dr. Mutchnick said. " And we put distracters in so over two weeks we kept clicking, clicking, clicking and it would literally push the back of her skull farther out. Because the bone flap is so large, it dramatically increased the volume inside her skull available for her brain."
Leyan is already doing much better.
"Leyan become calmer and herself, and she's listening better," Masri said.
Regardless of what life will be like when they return home, Montaha says she is forever grateful for everyone involved in saving her daughters life.
"She can not thank them enough for what so many people have done," Masri said.
Leyan will have the distracters taken out soon, and will return with her mother to her native country. The people who came to offer help to Reyan and her mother did it out of their own time and pockets.
Norton Children's treats more than 170,000 local patients a year, regardless of a family's ability to pay.