A 5-year-old Iraqi girl was riding with her father through the city of Heet in the fall of 2006 when an explosive bullet fired by a U.S. soldier penetrated the roof of their car and struck her head.
The bullet shattered bones and ruptured her cerebral membrane. After four surgeries in Iraq, Noora Afif Abdulhameed needs a prosthetic replacement for skull bone, as well as plastic surgery.
She’ll be getting both in Portland this spring, thanks to the efforts of a group of southern Maine residents who have obtained commitments of free treatment and surgery at Maine Medical Center.
Now the group, working with a national organization called No More Victims, is hoping to raise funds locally to pay the other costs associated with bringing Noora and her father here for a stay of up to six months.
“There are so many times when you just talk about doing something,” says Susi Eggenberger, an Arundel resident and former registered nurse who is helping to lead the fund-raising drive. “When I learned about what has happened to these Iraqi children, it just struck a chord in me.”
The group has been working with Dr. James T. Wilson, a Portland neurosurgeon, who has offered to provide free surgeries. MaineMed and Ronald McDonald House have also offered services at no cost.
Eggenberger said the group is now working with churches, schools, social services agencies and other nonprofit organizations to raise awareness of Noora’s treatment and cover non-medical expenses. She and her father are expected to arrive in late April or early May.
The group will begin its fund-raising by sponsoring a visit this week by Cole Miller, founder of No More Victims, the organization that brings injured Iraqi children to the United States for treatment.Miller and an associate will speak at churches and other locations Thursday and Sunday in Kennebunk, Brunswick and Portland.
Miller, 51, is a free-lance writer from Los Angeles who founded No More Victims in 2002, when it became clear the United States was going to invade Iraq. He said he was moved by the plight of children who were injured in Vietnam and by U.S. incursions into Central America during the Reagan administration.
“I just decided to put this together because I knew what the war portended for Iraqi civilians,” he said.No More Victims has brought six children to the United States so far. It also organizes support for children with permanent injuries who need help in Iraq with medical or non-medical needs, such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, educational materials and tutoring.
It costs $17,000 to $35,000 for each child’s stay in this country, and Miller says No More Victims has raised $200,000 to $250,000 since its inception to bring children here or to support children’s needs in Iraq.The organization has a center in Amman, Jordan that coordinates activities and evacuates children to the United States, but the operation is low-budget, Miller said. He runs the operation out of his apartment in Los Angeles and said he draws no salary himself. His national coordinator in this country is a volunteer.
“It’s really startling what communities can do and how they’ll rise to the occasion ... and feel the gratification of seeing a war-injured child get better,” he said.
Wilson, the doctor who is donating his care, is Maine’s only pediatric neurosurgeon. He said skull reconstruction and related plastic surgery goes hand-in-hand with operating on the brain. But Noora’s procedure will be especially challenging because she has already undergone several surgeries.
“It is a higher risk when you’re going in on on a delayed basis, after somebody has already been there, which is why a lot of people don’t do this type of work,” he said.
Wilson said he enjoys doing free surgery for relief efforts and has previously donated his services for two children from Central America.
"This child is extremely unfortunate,” he said, “and I’d like to do what I can to help her along in her life.”
Eggenberger, the volunteer from Arundel, is a documentary photographer who happened upon No More Victims while searching the Internet on an unrelated matter. She said she was moved by the chance to help a child, but the opportunity to live her politics also played a role in her decision.
“Noora is my first concern, and the kids that are being injured are absolutely my first concern, but at some level it certainly is a political statement for me as well,” she said.
Miller said the families of injured children find No More Victims through human rights organizations, the United Nations and a network of physicians inside Iraq. He acknowledged that many children also suffer at the hands of sectarian violence among internal groups.
But Miller said he chose to focus on children injured by U.S. actions because he wanted to raise public awareness of the impact of the U.S. presence in Iraq, which he strongly opposes.
“Since I’m one person, I have to choose, and I want to focus on those children for whom I have direct responsibility,” he said.
Noora will be the second Iraqi child brought to MaineMed for free treatment.
In 2005, Noor Abd Al-Hady Hassan, 5, came to Portland for corrective heart surgery by Dr. Reed Quinn, founder of the Pediatric Fund for the Maine Foundation of Cardiac Surgery.