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Iranian girl who wrote to pope for help learns surgery's not for the best

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - An Iranian teen-ager's hopes for surgery that would restore vision in one eye were dashed when, after an exhausting trip to America, doctors determined the operation might do more harm than good.

But doctors say they have not given up all hope, and are contacting experts across the country for other opinions.

Sixteen-year-old Mehmoush Tafreshi's trip began with a letter to Pope John Paul II, in which she asked for his intervention. Three surgeries in her own country had drained the family's finances yet failed to fix her right eye's damaged retina. She can see only shadows with the eye.

A top student in Tehran, Mehmoush worried her healthier left eye might also deteriorate and she would be left blind.

She is Muslim, but had seen the pope on television.

"I saw the pope is a very kindly man, a man of God," she said.

"This is my cry for your unrestrained and benevolent help, Your Holiness, to save a girl, hardly a teen-ager from blindness," she said in the letter, written when she was 14.

The pontiff remembered Dr. Amar Atwal, a Cheektowaga eye surgeon, and Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, a Williamsville plastic surgeon, whom he had met in the past. Both have donated their services to children and the elderly in Poland, Cuba, China, India, Russia and Hungary.

The doctors agreed to try to help and, with the help of charitable organizations in the community, arranged for her flight. The Ronald McDonald House provided free lodging for the girl and her mother, Tamara, who flew from Tehran to London, then to Boston and finally, Buffalo, arriving Monday evening after a 24-hour journey.

On Tuesday, however, doctors decided against the surgery.

"The risk is, if you attempt surgery, there's a greater risk of losing the eye through complications," said Dave Korzak, of Atwal's office. "Unfortunately, that couldn't be determined without an exam."

Mehmoush's retina became detached when she was younger. It was repaired in Iran but detached again. She has been left with nerve damage.

Mehmoush has vision in her left eye, but doctors fear the genetic condition which caused the right eye's problems will strike the left eye as well. Doctors performed a preventative laser procedure on the left eye Tuesday.

Mehmoush is not discouraged.

"I think because the technology in America is very fast, I think after one or two years," she said, "I can have an operation."


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