Above: Sisters Sara (R) and Maria Haroon. Photo courtesy of the Haroon family.
On Oct. 29, 2013, Maria Haroon turned 31. But her birthday, usually a joyous occasion, was different this year. This is the first year Maria celebrated her birthday without her identical twin sister.
Both Maria and her twin sister Sara suffer from a heart condition in which the heart becomes so weak and enlarged that it cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
Sara’s heart failed too soon. She died in March in their home country of India, only a day before both sisters received medical visas to go to the United States. Maria and Sara were both practicing pediatricians in India.
Now, Maria, who is kept alive by an artificial heart, is waiting for a heart transplant.
Her family continues to tirelessly campaign for her to get a new heart. Like many American families facing medical crises, the Haroons have used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about Maria’s condition and raise funds for her medical treatment.
However, ethnic media have played a unique role in Maria’s struggle for a new heart.
Muslim ethnic media outlets, such as Muslim Link and Illume, published Maria’s story and added much-needed legitimacy to her and her family’s plight.
“There are so many cases of people making up stories and then setting up fake accounts to take donations,” said Mujtaba Ahsan, Maria’s older brother. “So for us, the media added credibility. Because Maria’s story was written about in reliable media outlets, people knew that her case was real.”
The Muslim Link, a Muslim monthly print and online newspaper based in Maryland, published a story about Maria in July. Minhaj Hasan, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, is Maria’s second cousin, and heard about her struggle from his mother.
Family ties aside, for Hasan, The Muslim Link had a very clear obligation to help spread the word about Maria’s condition.
“Ethnic media reaches groups of people and communities who would most likely be affected by a case like this,” Hasan said. “American Muslims read our paper, and many of them are of Indian and Pakistani origin. Many also belong to a subgroup of doctors and medical professionals, so I was hoping some of those medical professionals would be moved enough to get involved, share their connections, expertise – and yes – their money as well.”
Illume, a digital national Muslim ethnic media outlet, also published a story about
Maria in August. The story highlighted one of the Haroons’ most daunting challenges: Maria is not insured. She will have to pay for the heart transplant out of pocket.
Maria’s brother Ahsan also said that ethnic media outlets helped raise awareness about Maria beyond the United States.
“Social media and the news articles helped us connect with people on different continents,” Ahsan said. “Most of our support came from the U.S. and India, but we also received donations from people in other parts of the world, such as the U.K. and the Middle East.”
Maria is now seeking treatment in San Diego, Calif. She lives with Ahsan, who is a business professor at San Diego State University, and his family. According to Ahsan, the Haroons have raised almost $150,000. However, a heart transplant surgery is estimated to run more than $1 million.
Hasan, the editor-in-chief of the Muslim Link, said that he is unsure how much ethnic media outlets helped raise for Maria. However, he believes that ethnic media should do what they can to make a difference in the lives of community members in need.
“In the end, I was trying to help a fellow human being with whatever resources I had in front of me. In this case, it was the newspaper and our website, and so I wrote the piece and we published it,” Hasan said. “All we can do is try, and let God take care of the rest.”
Brigitta Kinadi is a senior at American University. As part of New America Media's partnership with American University School of Communication , established in 2008, Prof. Angie Chuang's Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting class has explored the reach of ethnic media.