Mustafa Returns: Iraqi Boy's Hope For A Prosthetic Leg Proves Complicated
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
An Iraqi who was injured as a child 14 years ago during the Battle of Fallujah is back in the U.S. for medical care. It's his second trip, and it's involved three months of surgeries and other procedures. Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL, BYLINE: When Mustafa Abed first visited Oregon in 2008, he became something of a Portland celebrity.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A little boy straight from Iraq gets something from the U.S. that will...
FODEN-VENCIL: There was cute footage on local KATU of him scrambling around on the floor kicking a soccer ball. And Portland's mayor declared a day of recognition for the 5-year-old. But now Mustafa is a teenager and can tell his own version of how he was injured as a toddler through a family friend.
MUSTAFA ABED: (Through interpreter) Most of the doctors in Fallujah hospital, they didn't want to do the surgery for me. They thought I'm going to die, so they didn't want to, like, touch me.
FODEN-VENCIL: Mustafa lost his left leg, and his lower abdomen was badly damaged as the U.S. shelled al-Qaida fighters in a neighborhood nearby. Mustafa says his family remembers being moved from one hospital to another in search of a surgeon in Iraq willing to do the complex surgery. They found someone and saved his life.
The last time Mustafa was in the States, it was to tidy up that surgery and get a prosthetic leg. And after he went back to Iraq, Portland pediatric nurse Maxine Fookson hoped to bring him back for new prosthetics as he grew. But when ISIS moved into his town, she thought she'd lost him forever. Then, in 2016, "PBS NewsHour" did a story about a refugee camp in Iraq. And there on the screen, moving around on crutches, was Mustafa. Fookson says a friend called her, yelling.
MAXINE FOOKSON: She said, turn it on. Go get your computer. You know, so we all were screaming watching it, crying. Our worst fears had been Fallujah had been so destroyed by ISIS, where was - was the family even surviving?
FODEN-VENCIL: Fookson immediately started sending them catheters and other supplies. But Mustafa's colostomy was causing problems, and he needed more serious medical attention. So Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility started raising money to bring him back. Mustafa says he was excited.
MUSTAFA: (Through interpreter) Yeah, I had two dreams. And one of them is to get that leg when I come over here. So I get it, and then I go back to my country. That was two dreams that I had.
FODEN-VENCIL: But there's so little left of his hip that doctors say there's really nothing to attach a new leg to. So instead, last Sunday, supporters presented him with a new bike, powered by hand, to help him get to school.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Put the helmet on.
FODEN-VENCIL: So what are his friends going to think?
MUSTAFA: (Through interpreter) They will be happy for me.
FODEN-VENCIL: Mustafa's condition is stable now. But the support network of Oregonians and local Iraqis here are still worried. The clean water needed to keep his colostomy sanitary is in short supply in his small town. Mustafa knows that, so his dreams have changed.
MUSTAFA: (Through interpreter) I do have now a dream to be an American citizen.
FODEN-VENCIL: He says he wants to study here to become a doctor, like the people who've helped him. The family has talked to a lawyer. But there doesn't seem to be a clear path to U.S. citizenship. So their support network is now focused on Mustafa's return to Iraq and how to get him the clean water and reliable electricity he'll need to stay healthy.
For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland.
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