Five-year-old Youssif was scarred for life, his once beautiful face turned grotesque when some maksed men grabbed him on a January day outside his central Baghdad home, doused him with gas and set him ablaze. It was an act incomprehensibly savage, even by Iraq's standards today. No one has been arrested and the motive remains unknown.
But he is now on his way to recovery in a Californian hospital after several hours of surgery.
AdvertisementThe Children's Burn Foundation -- a non-profit organization based out of Sherman Oaks, California, that provides support for burn victims locally, nationally and internationally - is picking up the tab.
It will cover all medical costs -- from surgeries for Youssif to housing costs to any social rehabilitation that might be needed for him.
Doctors at the California hospital are happy with the outcome.
'It went well,' Dr. Peter Grossman said. 'I was very pleased to see that everything went the way we wanted it to. Youssif was scared, but he was a trouper.
'Surgery really went without any complications, and we're very pleased at the outcome.'
Grossman said Youssif will have some pain as he recovers.
'But kids are really pretty brave, and they get over the pain relatively quickly,' the burn expert said. 'And he's shown that he's a brave young boy.'
Thursday's surgery at the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital was the first of about eight expected to take place over the next several months.
Grossman removed the scarred flesh from Youssif's nose in the first procedure and temporarily placed cadaver skin to stimulate blood vessel growth and prevent infection. After a few days, the cadaver skin will be removed and skin from his belly will then be placed over the scars.
The surgeon will also insert a balloon into his right cheek and underneath his chin where the scarred flesh meets the 'good flesh.'
Youssif will be injected with steroids into the swollen scar tissue to soften and flatten the tissue. Over the course of about three months, the balloons will be gradually inflated with saline to stretch the 'good skin.' Once enough good skin has been stretched, he will go back into surgery and have the scar tissue removed and the good skin pulled over it.
In the hospital room next door, Monty Cortes tended to his 6-year-old son being treated for third-degree burns after a go-cart accident last week. He had read about Youssif's story and had hoped he might be able to see him and his family.
'I think it's horrible what they did,' he said of Youssif's attackers. 'It almost made me cry.' He added, 'I wanted to say I'm sorry to the parents for what we started in Iraq.'
Out in the hospital lobby, a sixth-grader and her dad were so moved by Youssif's story they stopped in. Scottie Harvey, 11, came bearing a teddy bear and purple lion. 'I thought it was really brave of him to go through that, so I brought him these,' she said.
A handwritten note from the girl included a picture of the sun shining. 'I hope you enjoy your new home. Feel better soon!' the note said.
Her father, Scott Harvey, said he and his daughter also were impressed by the courage that Youssif's parents displayed in coming here. 'The whole story is really touching.'