News: Soldiers help Iraqi boy get a new smile
Story by Sgt. Mary Junell
BAGHDAD, Iraq - From behind his father, a 3 year old Abdullah plays peek a boo with Soldiers of 252nd Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
The Soldiers are there to check on the child who is recovering from a recent cleft palette surgery; a surgery that happened thanks in part to the efforts of the Soldiers there to see him.
It all started with a trip to the trash dump.
2nd Lt. Charles Duggan said he visits the area south of Baghdad regularly while on missions with his Soldiers.
"I was talking to the people there and I asked who the sheik was," said Duggan, of Jacksonville, N.C. "I went to talk to him, and this guy brought his kid and showed me his kid."
Arhim Shakban's son, Abdullah, was born with a cleft palate, a birth defect that happens when a child's mouth does not develop properly during pregnancy.
"It's one thing that I felt like I was in control of, that I could help out," said Duggan. "[Arhim] did not ask me specifically about his son, but his son was there and I wanted to help his son. I had to act."
Duggan got on the internet after that first meeting with Abdullah and tried to find a way to help the boy. The first organization he contacted did not have doctors in the area that would be able to help him, but they referred him to a group who could.
"They referred me to Smile Train," said Duggan. "Smile Train told me they had an associate who worked in the area."
Duggan was soon emailing Dr. Ahmed Nawres, a plastic surgeon working in Babylon, south of Baghdad.
"[Dr. Nawres] told me he'd be happy to do the surgery on any child that I found free of charge," said Duggan.
Dr. Nawres has worked with Smile Train since 2006 and has completed more than 150 cleft palate surgeries, averaging three per week. Abdullah received his surgery Dec. 14.
Duggan and the other Soldiers in his platoon were excited to visit the boy, and they said they were happy to be able to help Abdullah.
"I did this because it was the right thing to do," said Duggan. "It was only a small effort on my part but I am glad to do what I can to make this wonderful event possible."
"We're just glad to be able to help," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Boyette, of Southern Pines, N.C.
Abdullah's father was the happiest of all.
"Every day I would worry about it and not know what to do," said Arhim. "He would not want to go outside with the kids, he stayed inside. Now he opens the door and plays with everyone. He can feel that something is different now. It goes away and he looked in the mirror and said, 'I look cute now' after the surgery."
The father smiled as he watched Abdullah laughing and playing with the Soldiers. Boyette showed him how to turn on and off the light on his helmet and Abdullah was eventually taking it off of the Soldiers head, and putting it on his own. The boy kissed the Soldiers and made his way around the room, playing laughing and smiling.
"There are not enough words in any language to express how happy I am feeling right now," Arhim said.