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Youssif rubs face with hands, says 'no hurt'

  • Story Highlights
  • Youssif began attending school in metro LA one year to the day of his attack
  • Boy burned in Iraq is already writing the alphabet and counting
  • Dad says, "I have begun to see my son's lively spirit return"
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By Wayne Drash and Atia Abawi
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Editor's note: CNN agreed not to use the full names of the family in this article due to concern for their safety.


Youssif is able to smile again, and his scars are healing well. Doctors are monitoring the swelling on his right ear.

WOODLAND HILLS, California (CNN) -- Youssif happily pulls off his plastic face mask and pats his cheeks, which were once covered by horrific burns.

"No hurt," the 5-year-old Iraqi boy says in English. "No hurt."

He then shows off his right hand. It too had been marred by hardened scar tissue after he was attacked by masked men outside his central Baghdad home January 15, 2007. Now, his hand is smooth.

Youssif flashes a proud grin.

A few moments later, he darts off and comes back toting his kindergarten portfolio. In less than a month of schooling, he's now writing the alphabet in upper- and lowercase. Photo See photos of a transformed Youssif »

He reads a book, repeating each word after the narrator. When he gets to the word "you," he gets tickled. He points at the name "Youssif" and then covers the final four letters.

"You," he says.

Youssif began attending an American school just last month, one year to the day after he was so savagely attacked in Baghdad. In a recent letter to those who have helped his son, Youssif's father described the anniversary as a "very hard day" to endure but one that also brought joy.

"But this year, it was the day for another miracle, Youssif's first day of kindergarten. It was a very happy day," Youssif's father said.

Youssif begins each day with his father strapping him into a bike trailer. Dad then pedals him to school.

On one recent outing, his dad's mobile phone blared Arabic music as Youssif quietly sat in the back, a helmet securely strapped to his head, the wind whirling past.

As soon as they reached the school, Youssif's slow walk away from his father, his head held down, quickly changed into a sprint toward his classroom, and all you could see was the big red "S" on his Superman backpack flying away.

"Harry," Youssif says in a small, muffled tone, reading the writing on the dry-erase board after receiving a little help from some classmates seated on the rug. Video Watch Youssif-inspired music video »

He then receives a congratulatory high-five from one of his kindergarten teachers.

Youssif is adjusting well to school, able to write out the alphabet and count to 12 without hesitation. He always finishes with an accomplished sigh, wide eyes and a smile so big, it's as if he is making up for the 10 months he was not able to smile.

He is quick to show the pencil box on his desk, pointing to his name written on it and then pointing to himself with the same tiny finger and nodding his head, letting you know that it is his.

"The kids love Youssif. They get more excited than he does when he learns a new word in English, and they brag about it for hours," the mother of a classmate says.

Youssif is attending the school thanks to help from the Children's Burn Foundation, the Grossman Burn Center and hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by you, the user, to help bring him and his family to the United States for treatment.

Youssif has undergone more than half a dozen surgeries. One removed the most massive scarring, which stretched about half a foot, from one of his ears to below his chin. See how doctors removed Youssif's scars »

He could undergo as many as 12 more procedures, his doctors say, mostly to tweak scars. His right ear has swelled, and doctors are monitoring it to figure out the best way to keep it in check. He wears a clear plastic face mask for much of the day to keep his skin tight and to allow it to heal correctly.

But the young boy's transformation -- both in looks and in spirit -- is nothing short of remarkable.

Back at his apartment, Youssif peels a clementine. He uses exaggerated motions as he plops each section in his mouth. At one point, he places his hand on his hip and taps his foot, waiting for an acknowledgment of this feat.

When he came to America in September, he couldn't eat -- or at least not like this. He smiles again.


"Now, Youssif eats anything he wants, because he can open and close his mouth," his father said in the letter. "I have begun to see my son's lively spirit return. The surgeries have removed more than just external scars, they are also beginning to remove his internal scars.

"A few weeks ago we went to the park and Youssif rode on the merry-go-round. Every time he passed by, he shrieked and laughed and waved wildly to me. I thought my heart would burst with happiness." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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