Injured Iraqi Boy Brought To Oregon Will Get Hand-Powered Bike
When Mustafa Abed first visited to Oregon in 2008, he became something of a local celebrity. Then-Portland Mayor Tom Potter declared a day of recognition in the 5-year-old’s honor and he was seen on TV playing soccer.
Mustafa is 15 now and can tell his own story about how — at the height of the Iraq War in 2004 — his leg was severed above the hip by a U.S. missile strike.
“Most of the doctors in Fallujah hospital, they didn’t want to do the surgery for me. They thought I was going to die, so they didn’t want to touch me,” he said through an interpreter.
Mustafa said his family talks of being moved from one hospital to another until they found a surgeon willing to do the complex operation.
The first time he was in the U.S., it was to tidy up that surgery and get a prosthetic leg.
Portland pediatric nurse Maxine Fookson, who helped organize the trip, said the plan was to keep bringing Mustafa back so he could get new, larger legs as he grew.
But ISIS took control of his town and they lost contact.
Eight years later, PBS Newshour did a story about a refugee camp in Iraq, and there on the screen — lanky and on crutches — was Mustafa.
Fookson said a friend called her in a fit. “She said, 'Go get your computer, we were all screaming, watching it together. Crying.'
"Our worst fears had been that Fallujah had been so destroyed by ISIS," Fookson said. "Where was the family? Was the family even surviving?”
The family had survived. But they had to flee to a refugee camp with 30,000 others, waiting to see what would happen to Fallujah.
Fookson immediately started sending catheters and other medical supplies, but it quickly became clear Mustafa needed more serious attention.
The group Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility started raising money to bring him back.
Luciana Mustafa-Elmashni with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund said they were also drawn in by Mustafa's story.
“Especially after finding him again after 10 years. It was very touching for all of us and it was like … Mustafa hasn’t been able to walk for 10 years. Wow. This is what we can do and we can help him with,” Mustafa-Elmashni said.
The fund helps war-injured children from across the Middle East, not just Palestine.
Mustafa said he had two dreams for his return trip to Oregon.
"One of them was to get that leg when I came over here," he said. "Then I go back to my country. Those were two dreams that I had.”
But his first dream may not happen. So little is left of Mustafa's hip that there’s almost nothing to which doctors can attach the new leg. Instead, his half-hour trip to school will be done on a new bike, powered by his arms.
Mustafa thinks it’ll do the job just fine.
Still, the trip to the U.S. was not in vain. He suffered such a severe infection after he arrived, it took two hospitalizations at Doernbecher Children's Hospital to stabilize him. Then he spent five weeks at PeaceHealth Medical Center in Eugene for a complex operation to improve his colostomy.
But his mother, the doctors and the large support network of Oregonians and local Iraqis that have grown up around Mustafa are worried. The clean water needed to keep his colostomy clean is in short supply in Iraq.
That's led Mustafa to change his focus.
“I do now have a dream to be an American citizen," he said. "I would like to live here, study here. And if I could get this done, and if anybody can help me with that, that would be really appreciated."
Mustafa said he wants to become a doctor like the people who’ve helped him over the years.
The family has talked to a lawyer, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to U.S. citizenship.
“It’s something that you have to adapt to. But it’s like I’m going from 10 to zero," Mustafa said of his pending trip home. "It's kind of a change that I have to deal with.”
Credible estimates of Iraq War casualties vary, but most number in the hundreds of thousands. Very few Iraqis make it to the U.S. for medical care.
Fookson admits helping Mustafa is the equivalent of singling out a grain of sand on a beach. But, she insisted, it’s still significant.
“I think it is important to say we care and we reach out to Mustafa — and symbolically to all the children who we aren’t possibly able to help,” she said.
Mustafa’s support network is now focusing on Iraq. They want to help the family find economically stability, maybe by starting a business. That way, they can secure access to the clean water and constant electrical supply needed to keep him healthy. [Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting]