Scars repaired, teen to head back to Iraq

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Scars repaired, teen to head back to Iraq

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Tags: heroes, Iraq, AP

After surgeries in Mich., Iraqi teen to head home

Associated Press Writer Kathy Barks Hoffman, Associated Press Writer – Wed Apr 21, 3:15 pm ET
LANSING, Mich. – A 13-year-old Iraqi boy brought to Michigan a year ago by a National Guardsman so he could get plastic surgery to repair scars from a house fire no longer is shy about pulling off his beloved Detroit Tigers baseball cap.

Black, glossy hair now grows where only scar tissue was before. And Mohammed’s left hand and wrist — deformed in the fire when he was 2 — now can adeptly field baseballs.

On Sunday, Mohammed will head back to Iraq with Army National Guard Major David Howell, who brought the shy, slender boy to mid-Michigan last April for the life-changing surgery.

“He’s really happy that he needs a brush,” Howell, 56, of Grand Ledge, said this week as he and Mohammed prepared for the journey back home to see the boy’s family for the first time in a year.

Mohammed first approached Howell at an entry control point in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in November 2008. Mohammed asked Howell — a Michigan Army National Guard physician assistant who was serving his second deployment in Iraq — to save him and take him to America.

Howell spent a frantic six months getting identification and a visa for Mohammed and lining up plastic surgeon Dr. Edward Lanigan at Michigan State University to perform the five surgeries for free. He also lined up a Muslim host family in East Lansing.

Once Mohammed got to Michigan, his life changed.

The teen has gained 26 pounds and grown 3.5 inches during his year in Michigan. He now has a capped tooth, eight filled cavities and glasses to improve the vision in his damaged left eye from 20/400 to 20/40.

He also has dressed up as Batman for Halloween, got pitching tips from the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander and been the ball boy for a high school soccer team.

Howell won’t publicize Mohammed’s middle or last names because the boy’s family may still be in danger in Iraq. His father was killed by insurgents three years ago for working as a translator for the U.S. Marines. The insurgents killed his uncle when he went to the morgue to identify and claim the body, and they warned Mohammed’s mother they would kill her and her children if she ever contacted U.S. soldiers.

Those who helped Mohammed in Michigan threw him a send-off ceremony in Lansing on Wednesday where they watched a video about him and his surgeries prepared by the university.

“I’m a new Mohammed,” he said afterward.

His mother and 19-year-old brother, Yousif, will be waiting for Mohammed when he and Howell reach the Baghdad airport next Tuesday. They’ll take him back to Ramadi for a celebration with his extended family.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how his hair looks now, his ear, his nose, those things that were affecting his daily life,” Yousif said through a translator Tuesday in a phone call from Iraq.

Howell set up a foundation and collected donations for Mohammed’s hospitalizations. At one point he couldn’t cover $18,000; a donor paid the bill.

“At every step of the way, someone came forward to help me,” Howell said. The foundation will continue to send money to Iraq to help Mohammed and his family.

Ziena Saeed, 33, and her husband, Dr. Ritha Naji, took in Mohammed to live with them, their 8- and 10-year-old sons and the daughter who was born after Mohammed arrived.

They speak the same Iraqi dialect he does, and Saeed, who wears a head scarf, frequently fixes Iraqi food. But he had to get used to eight-hour school days and “sitting at the table having breakfast together,” she said.

Ice also was a novelty. “Our ice maker broke because he used it so much. That was a treat for him, because he didn’t have it in Iraq,” she said.

While Mohammed is looking forward to seeing his family again, “it’s going to be hard” to leave Howell’s family and his adopted family in East Lansing, he said. He’ll take his baseballs signed by Tigers players to Iraq and plans to bring baseball equipment so he can teach neighborhood friends his new favorite sport.

The Michigan families plan to keep in touch with Mohammed through phone calls, e-mails and the Internet, and Saeed hopes Mohammed can come back for a graduate degree.

“Maybe for other kids, having the burns and having the other things would be really hard,” she said. “He overlooks all these things that are challenges for him. … He’s a really optimistic kid.”


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5 Responses to “Scars repaired, teen to head back to Iraq”

  1. craig lock Says:

    Thanks for the follow/link/like/reblog/comment and/or kind thought(s)



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    “Having pursued the goals, the dreams set before us and run the race with persistence and endurance, after giving it all. Then one day standing on the summit of life, breathing in the pure sweet oxygen of achievement, totally satisfied in running the greatest race, the race of life one that ANYONE can run and win.”


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  2. craig lock Says:



  3. craig lock Says:

    Reblogged this on The Foreign Correspondent: A Site of "Revealing Interviews" of a Foreign Correspondent, the Journalist and Writer.


  4. craig lock Says:

    Reblogged this on Working, Striving towards a more Peaceful World "I WRITE, I SHARE, I DREAM!" and commented:


  5. Scars repaired, teen to head back to Iraq | The International Correspondent: Peace Pursuit Says:

    […] […]


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