Seeking to Recover from the Wounds of War

By ELEEZA V. AGOPIAN / The Orange County Register

NEWPORT BEACH – After nearly three months in the United States, 3-year-old Alaa’ Khalid Hamdan Abd still gets frightened when she hears the word “Americans.”

The Iraqi toddler associates Americans with the American military. Her home in Al Qaim, Iraq, was inadvertently hit by a tank round on May 3 during a military operation in the area. The round killed her two brothers, 4 and 5, and a cousin, while the children were having a tea party. Abd needs surgery to reconstruct her abdominal wall, which was damaged in the explosion. A surgery in Orlando to remove micro-shrapnel from her eyes and reattach her retina was successful. The surgeon there said if the eyes had gone untreated a few more days, she would have been blinded forever.

This week she’ll meet with Dr. Ali Kavianian, a pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange. The surgery will likely be scheduled for next week.

The biggest danger to Alaa’s health was the shrapnel in her eyes. Now her sight is improving. Alaa’ wears thick blue-rimmed glasses that are strapped to her neck by a black cord.

Still, her father says, Alaa’ struggles with the many adjustments she’s had to make in America.

Alaa’s father said a trip to Disney World, while they were in Florida, turned sour when the little girl started crying during a fireworks show. “Americans,” she’d scream, said her father, Khalid Hamdan Abd, 28. She associated the blasts of pyrotechnics with bombs.

NoMoreVictims.org, a nonprofit group that funds medical treatment for children injured in the war, brought the father and daughter to the United States.

Cole Miller, 49, a freelance writer in Los Angeles, started the organization in September 2002. He said he wanted to show Iraqis there are Americans who oppose war and are willing to help.

Abd is the third child to arrive in the United States for medical treatment via No More Victims. A fourth is expected to fly to Pittsburgh later this week.

“I wanted to show the human face of collateral damage,” Miller said.

Despite her injuries, Alaa’ is a spunky toddler who loves running in the grass. Her pigtails bob while she giggles and tumbles in the park behind the Newport Beach home where she arrived Sunday. Alaa’ and her father are staying with Samar Kattan, an Iraqi-American, and her family.

Khalid Hamdan Abd said his daughter loved playing in the fields and nature that surrounded his family’s home in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, near the Syrian border. Since the war began, he said, even the adults are afraid to leave the house to pick up bread or groceries.

His pregnant wife, who lost her sight in the blast, remains in Iraq, where she has undergone several surgeries for shrapnel wounds. The couple also has a 2-year-old daughter.

In the U.S., local community members arrange for the children’s housing and treatment, while No More Victims supplies the funds and secures visas for the children and a parent to accompany them through Jordan and on to the United States.

Khalid Hamdan Abd said he’s grateful for the Americans who have helped him.

“If the (American) Army treated us like the American people treated us, that would be great,” said Abd, whose Arabic was translated by Kattan.

Abd and his daughter will be in Orange County for about a month while Alaa’ recovers from the surgery.

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