Iraqi Boy, 10, Gets New Legs in America

ByJohn Yang

KENT, Ohio, April 17, 2005 — -- Ten-year-old Majid Fadhil is a long way from his home, his parents and his six siblings in Kut, Iraq, getting a very special gift -- artificial legs and the ability to walk again.

Majid was hurt while walking home from school in Kut, in southeastern Iraq, with a younger cousin and other friends in February 2004. The cousin stepped on something -- it's not clear whether it was a roadside bomb planted by Iraqi insurgents, a stray grenade or a landmine -- and triggered an explosion. His cousin was killed. Majid lost his legs just below the knees.

Majid does not remember much about the incident -- but feels lucky to have survived.

He's shown remarkable progress. He took his first steps on his prosthetic legs in January. After physical therapy to rebuild thigh and back muscles he had not used for more than a year, he was walking by himself in a matter of weeks -- well enough that he was able to enroll in the third grade.

He's learning English quickly: His standard greeting is now: "What's up, dude?"

Majid's case came to the attention of Steve Sosebee, who runs the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund (www.pcrf.net), a charity that provides medical services to children in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sosebee found an orthopedic surgeon in nearby Akron, Ohio, who volunteered his services to operate on Majid's legs and refine the crude amputations.

Yanke Bionics, a prosthetics company, agreed to donate his artificial legs, which cost about $12,000 each.

In December, Majid made the trip from Kut to Kent in northeastern Ohio and joined the Sosebee household -- Steve's wife, Huda, a social worker who was born in Ramallah in the West Bank, and their 8-year-old daughter, Dima.

It was quite a change for Majid -- different food, a different climate and a different culture. And although the Sosebees all speak Arabic, it's a different dialect from Majid's. But he's taking it all in stride.

"We haven't had any problems with him at all," Steve Sosebee said. "He's adapted extremely well, and that says a lot about his character and personality."

Food had been the biggest barrier, but Majid now happily eats hamburgers, pancakes and French toast -- all items he had never even heard of before coming to the United States.

On a recent visit, Majid was playful and mischievous -- delighting in teasing a reporter who had recently lived in Israel, and in making jokes about the U.S. presence in Iraq and the current political situation there.

He still shows signs of lingering bad feelings toward U.S. soldiers and Marines from the Iraq war, but is grateful for the Americans who are helping him now.

"I'm happy to get legs," he said in Arabic.

Majid's story has been widely told in the local newspapers and on local television, making him a bit of a celebrity.

"He's a social boy," said Steve Sosebee. "With strangers on the streets who come up and greet him … or my friends who he's never met before, he's very easy to interact with them. And even though there's a language barrier, it doesn't matter. He smiles and his personality breaks down that barrier."

He's also gotten gifts of clothes and toys from strangers who've heard of his story. He carefully packs them away in his luggage, occasionally taking them out to look at them -- but always meticulously rewrapping them and putting them back.

"I'm sure he's never had this much toys or clothes in his life," said Huda Sosebee.

He still faces more physical therapy to gain strength and stamina. He will also likely need more surgery as his bones continue to grow.

Majid is expected to finish the school year in Kent and then return to Iraq this summer -- and, perhaps, run into the arms of his family.

John Yang originally reported this story April 9, 2005, on "World News Tonight."

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