For Iraqi Family, 14 Minutes Means Life Of Sacrifice

Samer Hanoudi stands at his brother Nazar's bedside. i i

hide captionSamer Hanoudi stands at his brother's bedside at the Greenfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Berkley, Mich. Nazar is "minimally conscious" and needs the assistance of a breathing machine.

Jacki Lyden/NPR
Samer Hanoudi stands at his brother Nazar's bedside.

Samer Hanoudi stands at his brother's bedside at the Greenfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Berkley, Mich. Nazar is "minimally conscious" and needs the assistance of a breathing machine.

Jacki Lyden/NPR
Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi and his wife, Firyal, provide round the clock care for their son Nazar. i i

hide captionDr. Najeeb Hanoudi and his wife, Firyal, provide round-the-clock care for their son, Nazar, at the nursing home where he lives. Firyal takes up most of the burden and always takes the night shift.

Jacki Lyden/NPR
Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi and his wife, Firyal, provide round the clock care for their son Nazar.

Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi and his wife, Firyal, provide round-the-clock care for their son, Nazar, at the nursing home where he lives. Firyal takes up most of the burden and always takes the night shift.

Jacki Lyden/NPR

I met the Hanoudi family when I was a war correspondent in Iraq in 2003. Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi was a practicing ophthalmologist in Baghdad. Instant friends, we drove all over the country together. Now I visit him in a Detroit suburb, and we can go no more than five blocks — just up the street to the nursing home and back.

Nearly five years ago, Hanoudi's son Nazar was traveling to work at a Baghdad checkpoint when he was shot by a U.S. soldier who thought he was an intruder. The Americans took the unusual step of sending Nazar to a U.S. hospital in the Green Zone, but as his conditioned worsened and he was being transferred to another facility, his heart stopped for 14 minutes.

Since those 14 minutes, Nazar's parents have rarely left his side. After enduring years of the worst of Baghdad's violence, the Hanoudi family emigrated and ended up in Michigan, living in a modest two-story apartment in the city of Berkley. Caring for Nazar keeps them closely tethered, and they rarely see one another outside of the small nursing home down the road.

Nazar, 40, now spends his days stretched out on a small twin bed, with an Arabic TV channel providing a constant murmur. He is "minimally conscious" and needs the assistance of a breathing machine. Hanoudi stresses that the facility is not an intensive care unit. There is no 24-hour nurse to make sure Nazar doesn't choke on the phlegm that builds up in his throat several times an hour. His parents are there when that happens — afraid all their painstaking care will unravel if they miss a moment, and that in that one second, they will lose Nazar.

They adjust his feeding tube, wipe his spit or suction his throat. They talk to him like a child, wait for him to blink back what could be — could be — a yes or no. Hanoudi's wife, Firyal, takes up most of the burden, and always takes the night shift. In the late afternoon after leaving dinner for her husband, she gathers up some meat, bread and cheese for her own supper and heads to the nursing home a few blocks away. When she comes back through the door, at 10 or 11 in the morning, her husband leaves for his turn by the hospital bed. They have another son, Samer, who recently lost his job at a nearby gas station and also takes a turn.

Hanoudi says, "I'm doing it because I have to do it. This is why we are here. And we are prepared to stay beside him because he is our responsibility, for the next few months, for the next few years, even for the next few centuries."

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