A 3-year-old Iraqi boy whose hearing was destroyed by a missile blast in the Iraq war was greeted at San Francisco International Airport Wednesday morning by spectators, balloons, TV cameras and many of those responsible for initiating the grassroots effort that brought him to the Bay Area for reparative ear surgery and rehabilitation.
Mustafa Ghazwan, who lost his hearing on June 17, 2007 when a U.S. missile struck near his home in the Iraqi city of Baqouba, smiled and waved from his father's arms at the welcoming party assembled behind the glass at the arrivals gate at SFO.
Scattered throughout the crowd were members of the informal coalition of community groups that arranged to underwrite the medical care needed to restore Mustafa's hearing and repair his ability to speak and interact, a process that could take up to four months and is not available to him in Iraq.
"His brain will have to be totally retrained," said Dan Lowenthal, a neurologist and member of the Iraq Action Group at UC San Francisco, where Mustafa will receive a donated cochlear implant in an operation on Jan. 17.
Dr. Lawrence Lustig, director of the UCSF Douglas Gran Cochlear Implant Center, will perform the operation pro bono, according to Lowenthal.
"Then he'll have about four months of rehabilitation, speech therapy and hearing therapy," Lowenthal said.
Barbara Rowe, a pastor at Tiburon's Westminster Presbyterian Church, said her parish raised the funds to pay for Mustafa's rehabilitative aftercare.
"We had a potluck fundraiser luncheon where church members brought different Iraqi dishes," said Rowe, who later waved miniature American and Iraqi flags at Mustafa and his dad.
Amy Skewes-Cox, a Marin County resident and a driving force behind the campaign to bring Mustafa to the U.S., was in the group meeting him at baggage claim where he opened presents and tossed balloons back and forth with reporters.
"He's the cutest little guy I've ever seen in my life," Skewes-Cox said.
Skewes-Cox wanted to do something to help Iraqi civilians impacted by the American-led occupation, and was eventually put in touch with Cole Miller, founder of the nonprofit No More Victims, who singled out Mustafa as a candidate for help in February 2008.
Mustafa's father, Ghazwan Al-Nidawi, said through a translator that he waited with his son in Amman, Jordan for more than five months before being granted a visa to travel to the U.S.
He thanked his benefactors profusely throughout his arrival.
Mustafa and his dad will stay at housing provided by Ronald McDonald House of San Francisco for the duration of their trip.