December 7th, 2012
12:14 AM ET

How one e-mail changed a little boy's life

Editor's note: "Operation Hope" will air on CNN International on Saturday, December 8 at 0900 GMT and 2000 GMT. It will also air Sunday, December 9 at 0200 GMT and 1000 GMT; and Monday, December 10 at 0300 GMT. Once it has aired you will be able to watch it in full on this page.

(CNN) – It was a short e-mail - a few simple lines. It appeared in my inbox on May 12, 2011. It had been forwarded several times until it found its way to me.

"I saw a story on CNN a few days ago and can't seem to get it out of my head," wrote American businessman Aram Kovach. "I want to somehow help this little boy."

Click here to find out how you can help

He was referring to a Freedom Project report that aired on CNN a few days earlier. The story, filed by Senior International Correspondent Sara Sidner, was about a 7-year-old boy from Bangladesh who had been savagely attacked and mutilated by a gang that routinely kidnapped poor children and forced them into the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to beg for money, which they would then keep for themselves.

When they snatched this little boy, he fought back. It almost cost him his life

As Kovach watched from his comfortable home in Columbus, Ohio, something about the story moved him so much that he got up off his sofa and sent an e-mail that would change his life - and the boy's future.

Read: From horror to hope: Boy's miracle recovery from brutal attack

The first time we spoke, Kovach was very clear that he did not want to write a check to a charity. He wanted to help this boy directly. "Perhaps I could hire a tutor for him so he can be educated," he said. "I want to know what this boy needs most."

I asked Kovach how much money he was willing to spend.

"Whatever it takes," he told me.

And so began a journey that changed how I view my role as a journalist, and forced me to think about the different levels of compassion that we, as human beings, all have within us.

Read: A terrible lesson, how Sara Sidner found the story

I started making calls to Bangladesh to find an answer to Kovach's question. What does this boy need most? The answer was more elusive than I expected. There were so many obstacles.

The boy and his family live in witness protection.

They speak no English.

I speak no Bengali.

It took eight months before I finally got an answer. What the boy needed most is surgery to rebuild his penis, which the gang had cut off in the attack. Doctors in Bangladesh can't help him, he needs to go to the United States or Australia, I was told.

I called Kovach to give him the news and asked him again how much money he was willing to donate. Surgery like this is expensive. The boy and his family have no money. Could Kovach bear this burden?

"Don't worry about money," he told me. "Whatever it takes, I'll make it work."

My next call was to my brother, a urologist in Florida. "I need to see pictures," he told me. "I can't tell you if we can help the boy without seeing the extent of the injury."

Another month passed before I received photos from Bangladesh and forwarded them to my brother. After looking at them, he explained that the boy needed more than just a urologist. He needed a team of specialists, and the surgery would have to take place in a large hospital with more resources available than where he operates.

Read: The surgery explained

Back at square one, I started to do some research online and kept coming up with the same name: Dr. John Gearhart, Director of Pediatric Urology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

So I called him. I shared the boy's story. I sent the photos. Dr. Gearhart didn't hesitate. Not only would he take the case, he said he'd do it for free.

And that's not all. He even agreed to take a call with doctors in Bangladesh at a specific time, dictated by them.

Nine o'clock in the evening, on a Friday, while Dr. Gearhart was on vacation in Jamaica.

The call was very important. The boy needed support from the doctors in Bangladesh in order to get court approval to travel to the U.S. for surgery.

I will never forget making that call. On my Blackberry, I dialed Dr. Gearhart in Jamaica and conferenced in the doctors in Bangladesh. Then I muted my phone and listened, with tears in my eyes, as Dr. Gearhart spoke to seven doctors, one at a time, repeating over and over, "Yes, we can help this boy. This is an operation we do all the time. We will improve his quality of life."

That call was on February 17, 2012 and things moved quickly after that.

The surgery was scheduled for August 16 and Dr. Gearhart drafted two more specialists who also agreed to operate for free: plastic surgeon, Dr. Rick Redett and general surgeon, Dr. Dylan Stewart.

I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to meet with Kovach and his wife, Branka.

I also traveled to Baltimore to meet with the public relations officials at Johns Hopkins and to find a home near the hospital where the boy and his family could stay.

I then went to Washington to meet with officials from the International Organization for Migration, who agreed to help the boy prepare for the journey.

But nothing could prepare me for what it would be like to meet the little boy in person, what it would be like to get to know him.

I was at the airport, waiting for them, the day the boy and his father arrived in the U.S.

I was in the operating room at Johns Hopkins on August 16, when the boy had his surgery.

And I was the first person to hold his hand in the recovery room, before his father was brought back to see him.

As the mother of two boys close to his age it was impossible for me not to think, what if this happened to one of my sons?

There were times when I felt like more of a humanitarian than a journalist. As a journalist, I'm required to be objective. To remain detached, to avoid becoming emotionally involved. But as a human being, how is that possible? In my 25-year career, I had never come so close to that line.

With the surgery now over and the boy safely back home in Bangladesh, I've had time to reflect on the events of the past year and a half.

One question gnaws at me.

With so many stories about people in need, what was it about this little boy's story that pushed Kovach to act?

He can't tell me exactly. As a writer and producer, I wish I knew.

I wish every story moved just one person to take a stand and make a difference in someone's life.


soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. T Cronje'

    Check out this poor guy... He survived his ordeal, and lives a normal life here in South Africa...

    Click on link below. (On my FB page)

    December 7, 2012 at 2:05 am | Reply
    • benyqyer joelle esther

      the fredom and democracy is let share cultur in nice aswell with the seem group foreigners hackers between maffias withe evangeliste drugs dealers iranian maroco nazi group all share logistics cables they have put is hard to say the police dont check do we need them for crisis the respons is yes if not why the police in nice aswell dont control put people in jail simple in touch with police army all this people always the seem group make moeny and express they point of view they come from var to block the system again difficult for me to put comment

      May 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  2. Ashish

    Respect/
    Real man.

    December 7, 2012 at 3:59 am | Reply
  3. Tochi

    Kovach is a real hero and he deserves commendation for his act of benevolence. If not for his courage and blind optimism this boy would have been forgotten in Bangladesh.Sometimes we only have to speak up or take a stance for good to overcome evil.The doctors who operated on the boy for free are also unsung heroes.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:22 am | Reply
    • Helal Sarkar

      He is a real hero. They still live in the world. All the best.

      December 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
      • Chimpnoodle

        Agreed. Very inspiring as well.

        January 7, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Moi...ici

      It sounds like the journalist did all the leg work. Kovach wrote an e-mail and offered money, though it's not clear it actually cost him anything since the surgeon did it for free. I'd say the journalist deserves at least as much, if not all the credit as Kovach is getting. Anyway you look at it, they're both princes.

      November 21, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • Bob

      Aram Kovach- You sir are an amazing individual.

      November 22, 2013 at 7:16 am | Reply
  4. Theo

    This is such a sad story... And it has helped me realize that my life is not just about me, when I am blessed with whatever little I have, it should not just be for me, but to remember and help those who are less fortunate. Isn' t it amazing how sometimes we read sad and traumatic stories like this one and feel sad for that moment and move on with our lives (or should I speak for myself?) It is so shameful.

    December 7, 2012 at 5:33 am | Reply
  5. Pravin

    God Bless the doctors and the journalist.

    December 7, 2012 at 6:13 am | Reply
    • sybaris

      It would have been a better blessing had your god stopped the animals who maimed this boy.

      Either your god is unwilling, incapable, or doesn't exist.

      December 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
      • no way

        And heeeere come the internet atheists. Unable and unwilling to keep from turning every news story into a hateful discussion about religion. So, so tiresome.

        December 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
      • luvcomments

        I feel really sorry for you – so empty. Sometimes God does wonders in ways we would not, in ways we can't fathom. Sometimes God uses people to show the awesome power we have in love for others.

        December 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
      • ForsakenPoptart

        Hey- I'm right there with you as a very vocal athiest, but this really isn't the place for this fight. Be cool, man.
        That said, don't thank God; thank the businessman and the doctors who were willing to give their time and money.

        December 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  6. dr abdulrahman alzamil

    Kovack and all the drs are heros, and you Isa the super hero, thank you for making all of us so small in this world, god bless you all.

    December 7, 2012 at 8:17 am | Reply
  7. ali zahir

    i will never ever forget Kovack, for what he has done "unbelievable" in my entire life may god keeps him happy all his life

    December 7, 2012 at 8:48 am | Reply
  8. Roberto De León González

    What was it that moved Kovach and the reporter to help this little boy? Love, and its close ally, compassion.

    December 7, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply
  9. Genet

    Mr. Kovak I really appreciate your help. God bless you.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  10. Ray

    I wanted to write something profound, but I can't get past the tears.

    December 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • keith44

      I am totally with you. I can't get past the tears.But, they are tears of joy :-)

      October 20, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  11. Zima

    Amazing story and amazing people – I wish things like this attract more attention than Kardashians and similar.

    December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  12. issa konsul

    i wish we have too many people like you , to help more thanks

    December 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Reply
  13. Naga Tejaswani

    I am so happy to here about Mr.Kovak and the doctors who came froward to do this. I wish I have the same courage one day to do something like this. Good deeds liek this will make us feel alive and human and give a purpose for our life

    December 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  14. Bob

    They carved upside down cross on his belly. They are Muslims unhappy the boy is Christian? Bangladesh is 95% Muslim

    December 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • Bobbi P

      The boy and his family are all Muslem. This attack was motivated by greed and fear, not religion.

      December 7, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
    • Asif Reza Chowdhury

      The gang cut the boy's belly not to draw a cross. They did that to make damage to his liver, stomach, etc. so that the boy always remained ill and never refuses to beg.

      December 9, 2012 at 6:30 am | Reply
  15. hutch

    The kindness of people never cease to amaze me. Mr. Kovach, may God bless you mightily. It's great giving to charity, but wanting to help this specific little boy from this tragic incident that happened to him... really wonderful. Most people would not have lived through this so maybe God has plans for this little boy. I'm a praying man and I'm praying everyone affected by this horrible incident will be blessed mightily for the rest of their lives.

    December 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  16. Meir Weiss

    Reblogged this on Meir Weiss' Blog.

    December 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  17. Christine

    Amen. To the amazing journalist who went out of his way to help a young boy in need. Sadly, a little boy has seen the harsh evils in this world and through the dedication of an amazing journalist and the doctors who helped, this young child will forever acknowledge that there is still good in the world he lives in.
    To the wonderful heros of today, although you are not widely celebrated for your great deeds, you have done more for the families than you can even imagine. This goes out not only to the wonderful journalist and doctors but to everyone whom goes out of their way to help a person or family in need. Thank you for all that you do everyday.

    December 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  18. RapidOne

    Thank everything for people like this.

    December 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  19. Maya

    Thank you Mr.Kovack, good to know angels like you are still on Earth.

    December 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  20. Akhter

    very shocked and saddened to see this. my prayer goes out to this boy and his family. kudos to the man who is helping him.

    December 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  21. NJZ

    God Bless and bright the light of this boy!!! and God Bless the life of all people who help him.

    December 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  22. Jaffrin

    How can we make sure that this never happens to another child?

    December 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • ForsakenPoptart

      Support education, condemn their religious zealotry.

      December 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  23. Decima

    I was thrilled to see Dr. Gearhart mentioned in this article. As a former patient of his, I can tell you that he's every bit as caring and amazing as this article makes him out to be. It's a real pleasure to know the man.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  24. mojobutta

    Round up that gang, publicly castrate them on an offshore vessel and immediately dump their bleeding bodies into the ocean for sharks to feed on.Even that's too good.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  25. Meha

    Hatts off Mr. Kovach and the team of doctors and Sara Sidner. The world is a better place because of people like you.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  26. fuadcsecuet

    Absolutely remarkable! An angel heart can save lives and can change the world to a peaceful one is proved again. Thanks to CNN Freedom project and everyone involved with this Operation of Hope.

    December 8, 2012 at 5:45 am | Reply
  27. fotografyolculari

    It was quite enticing.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
  28. Sanyi

    Thank you for Mr. Kovach, the Drs and journalist an all who were involved.
    Mr. Kovach,in my huge respect you also made me think about life and people differently.
    Thank you Sir, God bless You and all who were involved.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:32 am | Reply
  29. Lao's Ms. Mary

    I'm so moved by CNN's OPERATION HOPE story, I feel compelled to comment. Aren't we in America the most generous empathic caring people to make a major difference in Okhoy's life, living in a land so remote and unfamiliar, inspired by just one man, Mr. Kovach. It takes a village and the village came through. Thank you to all involved; these are exceptional people who know everyone of us we can make a difference in the world.
    While travel throughout the world, remember most child beggars are not begging for themselves and family but forced by syndicated gangs.
    Pakse, Laos Sabaidee Greetings http://www.indigothreads.org

    December 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Reply
  30. Rakib

    All i can say to Mr. Kovach,the doctors and the journalist is that you all are the real heroes.you people just proved that humanity comes first.If everyone steps forward like Mr. Kovach we will find a peaceful world to live in.hats off to you

    December 9, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
  31. sam kohen

    I see nothing wrong with slavery.In fact I think President Lincoln was wrong and slavery should be legalized. Even the Holy Bible condones it.So whats the problem?

    December 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • Gini Denninger

      Too bad then, that you, sam kohen, are not a slave.

      January 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  32. susan

    I dont know what to say after
    watching this God bless all the people involved amazing humans

    December 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  33. mt

    Dear, Aram Kovach, You are a wonderful man. I prayed for you to God Allah because you have a big heart...I hope that God Allah always shows right way to you.

    December 16, 2012 at 8:10 am | Reply
  34. Vanessa

    I'm so glad I found this story ...you will never know how it just pushed me on to get out and do something that had started to feel impossible.Each of you involved is a hero and each of you have made an enormous difference.You as a journalist made an even greater difference for without the story there wasn't a solution.

    December 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  35. Antoinette Lady Alma of Avalon born Meijrink

    Dear Sara, Kirstie, Errol, Situation Room Mastercode.

    And the Freedom for People stops and my Duty Officers are too tired from standing watch over us,,,, Today it is Christmas. and we stopped ringing bells on a short version .......

    Enslavement and I jitters lof 5 years extra service beyond Event Horizon... I am in Arnhem in enslabement by IP. My human Rights and we are ... At Least I am no Robot. IO am my my own mother sent back to impregnate....

    December 25, 2012 at 8:25 am | Reply
  36. Chris

    If only more people had such compassion for others! Well done.

    December 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Reply
  37. ali zahir

    ever since i read about this boy on the 7th feb report it changed me and my life and i have learned a lot from this report and really Aram Kovach and my hero journalist and all involved are angels on this earth they are beyond our expectations and they deserve it. i wish all of them a very happy new year and may god keeps all of them specially Aram and my dearest journalist happy for ever

    December 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  38. Ashish Saxena

    You know why the world did not end on Dec 21 2012. Why Mayans were proved wrong. Just because we have few blessed souls like Aram Kovach who still keeps our hope alive. They make us think again and again the purpose of our existence on this earth and redefine that we we are not mere mortals but angels in disguise. Kudos to your kind act and hope i and world will learn and follow your footsteps..God Bless you and this world..Have a very happy new year..

    December 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  39. Leslie T. Lox

    Slavery is an appalling state of non-citizenship that loses nothing to the horrors of the pre-Civil War slavery our ancestors experienced in America. It tells us among other things that as a society we have not advanced as much as we’d like to think we have. If nothing else, consider that you, your children or other offspring will likely be victims if something is not done to stop its growth. What is telling is their vacancy of spirit that denies them their soul and humanness – imagine that god doesn'’t hear your prayers. Then try to understand how it feels to have your labor compromised along with your health and well being for purposes that in some cases may be sacrificial and ritualistic and then perhaps used for physical purposes that included experimentation.

    January 25, 2013 at 1:38 am | Reply
  40. Bakhtullah Bakhtiar

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    March 26, 2013 at 1:20 am | Reply
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    April 10, 2013 at 12:15 am | Reply
  42. kidsrpeople2

    Ending School Corporal Pain (Hitting Children K-12 with wooden boards) Punishment, Legally persists in 19 U.S. States, frequently administered in ONLY 13 Southern States, over 223,000 children hit by educators each year with approx. 20,000 seeking emergency medical treatment. As of April 2013 No Re-Introduction of proposed Federal Bill H.R. 3027 "The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act" Cost $0, due to lack of Federal Lawmaker Sponsors, yet Federal Law Prohibits Corporal Punishment in ALL U.S. Prisons! Search "A Violent Education" 2008 Study by Human Rights Watch and ACLU for disturbing facts. dont hit students dot com

    April 28, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  43. Bosco Konneh

    Dear, Aram Kovach, You are a wonderful man. I prayed for you, may Allah bless you with all you need, I hope that Allah always shows you a right way.....Thank you

    May 3, 2013 at 7:20 am | Reply
  44. nainarao

    Reblogged this on nainarao.

    October 20, 2013 at 5:54 am | Reply
  45. Liz

    Inspiring to see how news is turned into action. Amazing story of kindness and compassion in contrast to the cruelty of the crime and the perpetrators.

    October 21, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
  46. Jessica Stratton

    If only we could all take a lesson from this beautiful story. One man was moved to take action and one woman made it all come together. I am so inspired by the selfless philanthropy of Mr. Kovach, the tenacity of Lisa Cohen and the generosity of the surgeons and specialists. One person really can make a difference!

    October 21, 2013 at 11:18 am | Reply
  47. Katarina Trent

    God bless all of you wonderful people who gave this boy this gift, there should be more people like you in this world.

    October 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  48. Desiree

    There is hope for humanity. We can all learn from Mr. Kovach, the journalist and the generous surgeons and doctors involved....This story brought tears to my eyes.

    November 21, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  49. bobby

    moved and inspired beyond believe. this story put tears in my eyes. I wish this world had more people like you guys!

    November 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Reply
  50. keith

    This is truly an awesomely wonderful and amazing personal story, and the people who made it happen are fully deserving of the praise and gratitude expressed by commentators here. But the fact remains that for every extraordinary rescue and kindness such as that afforded this 7-year old boy, there are thousands of children in Bangladesh and dozens of other countries world-wide who are kidnapped , or sold, into slavery daily, where they are forced to earn money via begging and/or prostitution (or given guns and forced to fight against whomever the criminals who grabbed them consider their enemies in various rebellions and territorial or religious conflicts.) Until there is sufficient OUTRAGE, RESOLVE, WILL and FUNDED MANPOWER to outlaw these practices and aggressively prosecute and punish the perpetrators at the community, province, state, national,and international (UN) levels, the abhorrent practices will continue. I wish I could be hopeful of such an outcome, but realistically I don't see it happening. In too many cultures, this is simply accepted as the way things are and have always been, and a passive fatalistic mentality prevents serious and determined efforts to effect change. Perhaps major coverage of this story in the Bangladesh press, with powerful editorials reaching the hearts and minds of citizens and government and law enforcement officials (and I don't know if any such thing happened), it would constitute the beginning of awareness, consciousness and shame on the part of some Bangladesh citizens that could lead to increased efforts on the part of legislators and law enforcement personnel to publicly condemn these practices; investigate, arrest and prosecute child kidnappers and abusers; and make examples of the arrests and prosecutions in the media. This could be the modest beginning of change to a massive international travesty that will be very difficult to impact, much less eliminate, for cultural and economic reasons, but we have to try.

    November 22, 2013 at 12:41 am | Reply

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