SAN FRANCISCO - Cheers rose Wednesday morning when 3-year-old Mustafa Ghazwan came through the security gates at San Francisco airport.Mustafa didn't hear a sound.
Totally deafened in a U.S. bombing raid in 2007 that killed three other children and an old man in his village near Baghdad, Mustafa is in San Francisco to receive a cochlear implant that will allow him to hear again.
He was greeted by five TV cameras and 30 well-wishers, including a sizable Marin contingent that spent most of the past year raising money and making arrangements for an implant operation at the University of California at San Francisco on Jan. 16.
Mustafa smiled, wide-eyed, as three stuffed toys and a bouquet of balloons were thrust into his hands. His dad, 33-year-old Ghazwan Al Nadawi, stood at his side.
"This will mean a whole new life for him," said UCSF neurologist Dr. Dan Lowenstein of Mill Valley, a member of the hospital's Iraqi Action Group. "It's just wonderful."
Standing nearby, and beaming, were Amy Skewes-Cox of Ross and Ruth Friend of Mill Valley, who raised funds and made arrangements on Mustafa's behalf. They are point people in the Ruth Group, a Marin grassroots political organization.
Also on hand was Cole Miller, founder of No More Victims, a national organization that helps bring injured Iraqi children to American communities for treatment.
Mustafa is the 10th child the organization has brought to the United States.
"Our efforts are very humble, given the magnitude of the catastrophe," said Miller, who cited 300,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, hundreds of thousands injured, and a country with a medical system in ruins. "We can't fill the need, but a little boy like Mustafa brings it down to a human scale, it gives a face to the many human beings who have been made to suffer in an unjust way."
Supporters waved signs of welcome. One, brought by translator Mohammad Salim, who had traveled two hours from Brentwood to be on hand, read: "Welcome to our beloved Iraqi child Mustafa and his father Ghazwan." It bore a picture of Mustafa, and Iraqi and American flags.
Others brought an array of stuffed toys. At one point Skewes-Cox sat on the airport floor to show Mustafa the presents she'd brought. Mustafa picked through an additional binful of goodies.
Mustafa and his father will stay in San Francisco at the Ronald McDonald House on Scott Street while the boy undergoes medical tests, the operation, and up to four months of speech and hearing therapy afterward.
Mustafa's injuries occurred just as he was beginning to talk; he will have to re-learn what language he knew. He also will learn to hear a new way: cochlear implants provide "a new interface between sound waves and the nerves that come out from the brain," according to Lowenstein.
Lodging for the boy and his father at Ronald McDonald House was donated, along with many other elements of Mustafa's stay.
The Iraq Action Group, the Ruth Group and numerous volunteers were able to secure for free a $75,000 cochlear implant device, the skills of surgeon Dr. Larry Lustig of San Francisco, an anesthesiologist's time, hospital fees and post-surgical speech therapy.
The Ruth Group raised $30,000 to pay for transportation and other expenses. The group was supported by members of the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Tiburon, which pledged to help pay for Mustafa's therapy. Pastor Barbara Rowe and church member Pat Herve were among the greeters Wednesday.
No More Victims paid for Mustafa and his father to stay in Jordan while awaiting a U.S. visa, which hit an unexpected bottleneck that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office helped clear. No More Victims is sending money to Mustafa's mother and her second son, who stayed in Iraq, to make up for his father's loss of salary during the journey; Ghazwan is a professor of journalism at Baghdad University.
"The United States has created a great deal of ill will and antipathy in Iraq," Miller said. "Coming here today, his father will get a completely different impression of who we are as Americans."
Friend said her view of Mustafa's journey was that "one little boy has opened the door for hundreds of people to express their generosity, and to fulfill their desire to do something about the suffering of all the victims of the Iraq war."