In 2003, while volunteering at an orphanage for disabled children in Baghdad, National Guard Capt. Scott Southworth met Ala'a, a young Iraqi boy who could not walk because of cerebral palsy.
Now Ala'a, nearly 10, lives with Southworth in Wisconsin, and a doctor recently gave the pair great news: Ala'a soon may be able to walk.
'Back to Reality'
On his tour of duty in Iraq, Southworth, now 32, was helping to train Iraqi police, a difficult job in a war zone and the triple-digit Baghdad heat.
"At the end of those days, we wanted to do something that would bring us back to reality," Southworth told ABC News' Charles Gibson on "Good Morning America." "It was Sept. 6, 2003, that we first went into the orphanage."
Ala'a, who learned English at the orphanage after being abandoned as a 4-year-old, dragged himself across the floor to greet the American.
The two soon became inseparable. Southworth loved spending time with Ala'a and watching him discover new things. For Ala'a, it was the first time someone made him feel special.
After a few months, affection, comfort and a bond began to grow and Ala'a started to call Southworth "baba," which means "daddy" in Arabic.
When Southworth learned that Ala'a soon would be transferred to a government hospital for the disabled where he would not receive adequate care, he made a life-altering decision to become Ala'a's legal foster father and bring him back to America.
"For me it was a spiritual decision," Southworth said.
Southworth, a Christian, said he could not justify leaving Ala'a behind. He imagined himself one day trying to get into heaven, and trying to explain why he left behind the young Christian Iraqi boy with cerebral palsy.
"Every excuse I came up with was just that: It was an excuse," Southworth said.
But the adoption process would not be easy, and Southworth's company was heading home.
Back in the United States, it took six months of legal battles before Southworth could return to Baghdad with a humanitarian visa for Ala'a.
"Operation rescue Ala'a is in play, and we are off to Baghdad," Southworth said in a video diary he recorded at the time.
On the trip, Southworth worried that the Iraqi government might not allow Ala'a out of the country. But while in Jordan he got the news he was waiting for: Ala'a would be able to go to America.
Soon, the pair was reunited and a new family was born. A sports car Southworth had often thought about while deployed in Iraq remains in storage at his parents' house. Now, he drives a minivan to accommodate Ala'a's wheelchair.
"All my friends are making fun of me now," Southworth said. "They're calling me a soccer dad. … It's got a great stereo system in it, though."
In fact, Southworth said he recently heard the already bilingual Ala'a singing along, in Italian, to opera as they cruised around in the minivan.
Ala'a now has been in the United States for two months. The bachelor and the abandoned boy are happily adjusting to their new lives as father and son, and they recently got encouraging news.
"He went to a cerebral palsy expert last week on Monday and he got incredible news," Southworth said. "After a long examination the doctor said, I believe he's going to walk. … He's hopefully going to be walking as early as this fall."