War on Terrorism

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Balad medical team turns tragedy into triumph

by Airman 1st Class Allison M. Boehm
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Sajad Hany Shaker Mahmud was involved in an improvised explosive device attack Jan. 24 in Iraq. He had just climbed into a vehicle for a short trip when an IED detonated. Sajad has no known enemies, disputes, business conflicts or political aspirations. He is only 6-years-old.

Sajad is still recovering from the blast that killed his grandfather and left him with multiple burns to both legs, a right arm fracture and a severely fractured left leg, which had to be amputated from below the knee.

Constant care helped form close-knit bonds with the medical staff at the Air Force Theater Hospital here as he recovered from his injuries.

"I remember wondering if this boy was ever going to have a normal life again," said 1st Lt. Emily Adams, a 332nd Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron intermediate care ward nurse. "I remember taking care of him his first night on the unit, and it was horrible; horrible for Sajad, his father and the staff. It has been amazing to see him transform throughout his stay here."

For weeks, the inconsolable child constantly cried out, he pulled at his hair, he screamed and regularly awoke during the night from nightmares, but as the weeks went on, he formed close relationships with his caregivers, and he began to feel more comfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings.

"We always would try to make him smile and for the longest time he wouldn't," said 2nd Lt. Sarah Marks, a 332nd EMDOS intermediate care ward nurse. "One day we were racing around in his wheelchair, and he finally smiled. It was so exciting to finally see him laughing again."

Over the last 72 days, Sajad has developed trust and now gives the medical staff, which he knows by name, hugs and kisses and refers to many as "Habebe," which means "my love" in Arabic.

The staff in turn has learned many words in Arabic to better communicate with Sajad and their compassion shows.

"Gradually this little boy no longer looked at you with sheer terror in his eyes," Lieutenant Adams said. "His personality began to shine through, and you started to believe this kid could have a normal life again after such a tragedy. He's grown to trust us, and we've grown to love him."

The smiles and laughing continued as the medical staff celebrated his 6th birthday with him and his father. Hospital staff and fellow patients gathered around his bedside as he received numerous birthday wishes, gifts and even a cake.

"I have never seen this kind of care at an Iraqi hospital," said Hany Shaker Mahmud, Sajad's father. "They care about Sajad, and I am very appreciative for this celebration -- nobody can do this for him at home. All the ranks came to tell my son happy birthday, and I can't forget what they are doing here. I will leave with a lot of good memories of the Americans. I don't know how I will ever repay them for what they have done for my son. What I saw here, it is something you can't dream of."

For many, the celebration gave them a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that they got Sajad to the point of being up, smiling, and celebrating another birthday with his family.

His wounds are healing, and he will soon be able to go home.

"It's a privilege and honor to care for the kids who have undeservingly suffered from this conflict," Lieutenant Adams said. "To see him off will be bittersweet, but mostly sweet. We will miss his bright eyes and smile, but we are thankful that through all the hard work and dedication by the amazing health care team he will be able live life to the fullest."

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