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Encore - Impact Your World: Rescuing Youssif

Aired January 12, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is so such thing for a life for a child in Baghdad. It's a life of not being able to build and sustain friendships. It's a life of, if you're lucky, being able to go to school but having a constant state of anxiety around you. It's a life where you're watching your parents living in this constant state of anxiety.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Arwa Damon has been fighting in Iraq for four-and-a-half years. All that time, amid all of that mayhem, a little boy named Youssif was growing up in Baghdad.

DAMON: When we look at a child like Youssif, he was born seven months before the war started. This is all he knows. For him, this hellish life is reality.

GUPTA: Youssif lived in the violent heart of the Iraqi capital.

DAMON: It's in the central part of the city, and there have been a number of incidents over the years: car bombs, assassinations, targeted killings, sectarian violence, you name it, it exists -- if not specifically on the street he lives on, in the general vicinity.

GUPTA: Youssif's father says he feared for his family's safety. And out of concern for his safety, CNN has agreed not to identify him in any way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Inside Iraq, there is no safety. I cannot provide security. Even inside our house, it's not safe.

GUPTA: The family lived in a modest home, they relied on a generator for power. And Youssif's father worried the water they were drinking was dirty. In Iraq, Youssif's father said, everything was difficult. Despite the hardships, Youssif was an outgoing, happy boy, a 4-year-old who loved to ride his bicycle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What can I tell you? He was happy all the time.

GUPTA: As 2006 drew to a chose, Youssif was starting kindergarten and was eager to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He used to be the boy who wakes me up in the morning (UNABLE TO READ GRAPHICS): "Let's go!" DAMON: When his mom asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he used to say, I want to be a doctor. So he definitely, in terms of his parents, was someone whom they hoped would go farther than they did in life. They will say that themselves. We want our son to go places that we couldn't even dream of.

GUPTA: Youssif and his family didn't dare travel far in Baghdad. Like many parents, Youssif's mother and father kept him close to home in hopes of keeping him safe. On January 15th, a Monday, Youssif was just outside the front door, eating chips and playing. His father was at work. His mother Zaineb was inside their small home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I heard screaming! I thought someone was quarrelling. I came down, I thought something had happened to my husband. I looked and saw my son. I couldn't bear it and I fainted. I was shocked. I saw him after they put the fire out. There was blood, and there was no skin. I thought he was hit by a car. They told me he was burned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was at work. Zaineb called me. She didn't say he was burned. She just said, you must come home urgently.

GUPTA: You can't dial 911 in Baghdad. So it was up to Youssif's father to take his severely burned son here to Kindi (ph) Hospital. There, doctors scraped the dead skin from Youssif's face with no anesthetic, an incredibly painful process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): At the hospital, he was in a lot of pain. They scrubbed his face and there was a lot of bleeding. He suffered a lot.

GUPTA: When Youssif returned home after 20 days, he was a different child, not just because of the scarring across much of his young face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He was more energetic. And now, he's very sensitive. Now, when kids talk to him he says, don't look at me.

GUPTA: Months after the attack, Youssif stood in the spot where he was burned. He said three masked men poured gasoline on him and then set him on fire. "I was burning," Youssif says.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Who burned you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The ones with the masks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): What did they dump on you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They lit the match. They dumped the gas. I was burned and they ran away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I lie awake at night and cry. I wish I hadn't let him go out of the house. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What can I tell you? I can't describe that horrible time. It was awful.

GUPTA: No arrests have been made and there are no suspects. Youssif's parents say they don't know why anyone would burn their son. In Baghdad, there are a number of ways you can become a target. If you're the wrong religion, have the wrong job, live in the wrong neighborhood, or if someone wants to force you out of your home.

(on camera): The attack on Youssif came the same day as the surge in Baghdad began, and the hanging of two of Saddam's lieutenants, so the tragedy of one little boy didn't receive much attention. Yet thousands of people around the world were about to come to know Youssif and band together to save him. What was about to happen might just be one of the best stories to come out of this war.




GUPTA (voice-over): Disfigured by a savage attack, Youssif now spent his days inside his Baghdad home, playing computer games. Youssif told his mother Zaineb his friends shunned him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I can't let him go outside and play with the other kids. The other day they were playing and he was crying. And I asked him, what's wrong? He said, they won't play with me because my face is burned.

GUPTA: Once outgoing, energetic and happy, Youssif was now withdrawn, sullen, angry. Zaineb described other ways the old Youssif was gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He has gotten mean. I'm not sure why. He gets jealous of everyone. If I say the simplest things to him, he cries. He is sensitive.

DAMON: Zaineb, Youssif's mother, when she would talk about him, she would just say, his personality changed. He's mean to his sister. He says, why isn't my sister's face burnt? Why aren't other children's faces burnt?

GUPTA: Desperately wanting to help his son heal, Youssif's father wrote letters to government officials hoping someone would help.

DAMON: He had gone to the ministry of health. He had gone, written letters to parliament. He had written letters to the prime minister's office begging for them somehow to get his son help outside of Iraq, because he knew that Iraq's medical institutions could not treat a case like Youssif's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I never got help anywhere. GUPTA: That's when this father's love prompted him to take an enormous risk, to put his own safety in jeopardy for his son. For his safety, we're not identifying him in any way.

DAMON: His father has been pounding the pavement in Baghdad for about nearly eight months. He happened to be in a store where he heard about CNN and was told that perhaps CNN could help.

GUPTA: Just going to the CNN bureau in Baghdad, Youssif's father was risking his life.

DAMON: Iraq is this entirely unpredictable environment where often times the violence is so senseless, and to be associated with a Western network can be a death sentence. That is just the reality of Baghdad, of Iraq. And he risked everything for his son.

GUPTA: Youssif's father returned to the CNN bureau four times before a producer, Mohammed (ph), had time to see him. For his safety, we aren't showing his face, either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he showed me the first picture of Youssif before the incident. That smile, I couldn't help myself but to cry. I said, oh, my God, this is your son before the incident. I run with this picture to Arwa, and Arwa also was like in the middle of something busy. I said, Arwa, leave everything, look to this picture.

DAMON: And for us, that was it. We were going to do the story, if only for the sole reason of trying to get this kid help. I was actually really nervous the day before the story went out on TV and then we did a Web version of it. I sensed -- I thought there would be some sort of a reaction, but I didn't know if it would be enough to actually get the family help.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A small boy in Iraq scarred forever by shocking violence, CNN's Arwa Damon has his story, but first, a warning, the pictures are very disturbing.

DAMON (voice-over): Youssif is 5 years old. He was a happy boy who loved kindergarten and had dreams of being a doctor one day. On January 15th, that all changed.

(on camera): I remember the e-mail responses beginning to come to the dot-com version, and feeling a little bit of relief, but still apprehensive. And then all of a sudden we were flooded. I mean, was flooded, my inbox was flooded. It was completely and totally overwhelming.

GUPTA: Heartfelt responses came in from all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Life is too short to be wasted in hatred and revenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Youssif's story is a story of hope, inspiration, and courage to all of those living out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A heartwarming and hopeful story amidst the never-ending coverage of the war on terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Youssif has touched and changed my life forever. Thank you, CNN, for your continuing coverage of the most moving story I've ever read.

WAYNE DRASH, SENIOR PRODUCER, CNN.COM: It was the single most visited non-breaking news story in history. More than 2 million people read that initial story.

GUPTA: Offers came from a number of charities. And Youssif's parents chose the Children's Burn Foundation to help their son.

BARBARA FRIEDMAN, EXEC. DIR., CHILDREN'S BURN FOUNDATION: This is the purpose of the Children's Burn Foundation, is to help children like Youssif whether locally, nationally, or internationally, wherever they may live. So we immediately called CNN to let them know we wanted to help.

GUPTA: put a link to the charity on its "Impact Your World" Web page. And the donations for Youssif poured in.

DRASH: "Impact Your World" is a Web site on that was created for stories like this so that people who read a story and want to act and to help an individual or just a charity in general, they can go to and make a difference.

GUPTA: In no time, the charity received more than $13,000 in donations, more than $300,000, all for Youssif.

FRIEDMAN: Gifts have come to the Children's Burn Foundation from around the block in Van Nuys, to England, Monaco, Lebanon, everywhere. We got a lot of contributions from soldiers in Iraq. An example is one who e-mailed and said, I spent a year in Iraq and I thought I was tough, but when I saw the story about Youssif, I cried.

GUPTA: A doctor also stepped up. Dr. Peter Grossman of the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, California.

DR. PETER GROSSMAN, GROSSMAN BURN CENTER: Sometimes a story just hits you -- a situation you're presented with just gets you right in the heart. And you say, you know what, I want to do something. I want to reach out.

GUPTA: A special visa for Youssif and his family was the last piece of the puzzle.

DAMON: The people at the embassy in Baghdad who were my direct line of contact were actually amazing. Once they got all of the paperwork, Youssif and his family had their travel documents within two days. And that is unheard of in the past.

JEWELL EVANS, FMR. DEPUTY CONSUL GENERAL, U.S. EMBASSY, BAGHDAD: When it came time to put together the travel letters, my staff all offered to help. And there were some people putting the photos on the travel letters, some people stamping them. So it was very much a team effort. DAMON: When I got the phone call from Jewell Evans, who was the main person I was dealing with, I got her on a Saturday morning at 8:00 in the morning, and she called me so excited, saying, they got it.

It was the most amazing thing to be able to call Youssif's father, finally, when everything fell into place and say to him, your son is going to America and is going to get help.

GUPTA: It would be a new beginning with new dangers. From Baghdad to a burn center.




GUPTA (voice-over): Youssif's father called it a journey from death to life. His mother called it a dream.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would like to welcome you to Los Angeles.

GUPTA: From Baghdad to Los Angeles, a 24-hour trip a world away, and a new beginning for Youssif and his family far from Iraq's violent and uncertain streets.

Barbara Friedman and Keely Quinn of the Children's Burn Foundation greeted Youssif, his parents, and his sister Aya (ph), and took them to the two-bedroom apartment where they live while Youssif receives treatment.

FRIEDMAN: They're obviously a family of little means. They came with one suitcase for two adults and two children for a six months to a year.

KEELY QUINN, PROGRAM DIR., CHILDREN'S BURN FOUNDATION: They're so young, I couldn't believe it. I was surprised at just how friendly, how -- I mean, ready to laugh and just -- they're a lovely family.

GUPTA: Donations to the Children's Burn Foundation from CNN viewers and readers from around the world are paying for medical and living expenses for Youssif and his family for as long as they're in the United States.

FRIEDMAN: I felt so lucky to be able to see people who were just so happy to be here. And it was just pure joy for that moment for lives that had been riddled with pain and chaos.

DAMON: She says it's more than paradise.

GUPTA: CNN war correspondent Arwa Damon brought Youssif's plight to the world's attention. She has made the trip with the family and serves, at least for the time being, as their translator. Quinn's job is to help the family negotiate life in the United States.

QUINN: Youssif is a unique situation. When we have kids from overseas, usually we're working with a host family or another host organization. But in Youssif's case, we really were responsible for arranging the housing and making sure they had furniture and clothing and food and then arranging the access for contact with the Muslim community. And that's our job to make sure that the family is comfortable, that they're safe, that they're all right. And then our other goal is to make sure that the family -- Youssif and the whole family receive the emotional support that they need.

GUPTA: For Youssif and his family, the everyday in their new home seemed extraordinary.

DAMON: She has seen a toaster in cartoons but not in real life.

GUPTA: There were other slices of Americana, previously only seen in the movies, manicured lawns, a swimming pool, a playground. Another first, Youssif's first doctor visit with Dr. Peter Grossman.

GROSSMAN: ... happy with me? This is not unusual.

GUPTA: Dr. Grossman donated his services and planned to operate on Youssif six times or more in the months ahead, trying to repair a face savagely burned when masked men in Baghdad doused Youssif with gasoline and set him on fire. Youssif was a reluctant patient, perhaps because of the incredibly painful treatment he received in Iraq.

GROSSMAN: Will you let him know that I promise I am not going to hurt him, OK?

DAMON: Youssif (SPEAKING ARABIC), Youssif.

GROSSMAN: If he doesn't mind, I'm going take a tape measure so that I can see how big that scar is.

Sixteen centimeters.

Can he close his eyes really tight?


GROSSMAN: Excellent, excellent.

Youssif, can you open your mouth for me?



GUPTA (on camera): What was it like when you first met Youssif?

GROSSMAN: When I first saw Youssif, I saw a face that I had seen several times before, a young child, very scared, a glimmer of hope that something could be done, but not quite trusting.

I knew from that moment that my work was cut out for me, not just from a surgical standpoint, but on a human level. How can I get this child to trust me? And right now, we're in the process of that.

GUPTA (voice-over): Grossman scheduled Youssif's first and most important operation for eight days later. The next day, at Universal Studios, Youssif met his hero, Spider-Man, and took a ride that may have struck too close to home.

"I'm not scared of anything," Youssif said. "I'm not even scared of fire." But even with the newfound bravado and experiences most children in Baghdad can only dream of, Keely Quinn of the Children's Burn Foundation warned there's plenty of emotional healing that needs to take place.

QUINN: This was a frightening, frightening event. And I think one of the goals in taking care of Youssif's emotional well-being is helping him become a kid again and helping him feel safe and that he belongs in the world. I think a lot of kids who suffer burn injuries or kids in general when they suffer trauma, they really withdraw from the world.

GUPTA: On a trip from the beach, members of a nearby church wanted to help with spiritual healing. The church group recognized Youssif from news stories and asked if they could say a prayer for the boy and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're going to need strength and they're going to need faith and patience and, God, just put your hands on the entire family and take care of Youssif and his mom and dad and everybody and so everybody can pull through this together. This world may have hate, but you have love. Precious father in heaven, bless this child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was overcome by emotions. Here in America, people were moved by him. Why not Iraq?

GUPTA: Youssif's mother Zaineb's wish for her son was more down- to-earth. She said she just wanted her son's smile back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye-bye, Youssif.

GUPTA: And as Youssif played by the water, the first time here his family had seen the ocean, Zaineb said she saw a glimmer of the old Youssif.

DAMON: The Youssif that we saw on the beach, that's the son that they remember him being before the attack. He was happy in those moments.

GUPTA: Youssif and his family enjoyed their moment in the sun, with surgery just five days away.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Randi Kaye in New York. Back to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in "Impact Your World: Rescuing Youssif" in a moment. First, here's what's in the headlines right now.

Christmas arrived in Vatican City with the traditional pageantry of the midnight mass at St. Peter's Basilica as the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the birth of Jesus.


KAYE: In his homily, Pope Benedict urged all of us to make room for God in our lives and to remember those in need.

Here in the U.S., the Christmas shopping won't -- won't stop until midnight in some places. A lot of malls have been open around the clock, but it just may not be enough for retailers. The week before Christmas accounts for 10 percent of the entire season's sales. And retailers are expecting the slowest pace of growth in five years.

How often do you hear this: holiday travel not such a nightmare? Few major airport delays have been reported, despite the weekend snowstorm in the Midwest. That storm killed at least 22 people. Snow and ice fell from Colorado to Indiana and as far south as Texas. Multicar pileups forced closing parts of several major highways, and the storm left hundreds of thousands of customers without power over the weekend.

And a hopeful sign tonight for the city of New Orleans. Despite slow progress in rebuilding some neighborhoods, a new report by an urban planning consultant predicts the city's population will pass 300,000. That's about 65 percent of New Orleans's population before Hurricane Katrina.

I'm Randi Kaye. Now back to Dr. Sanjay Gupta and "Impact Your World: Rescuing Youssif."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going let go, OK? You ready?

GUPTA (voice-over): Day by day, Youssif was emerging from his shell, a world away from Baghdad and the masked men who lit him on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's completely changed. It's been absolutely amazing to watch the transformation. And you can actually see it every single day. You can see him moving from being this completely introverted, angry person to moving towards a happier, at least more extroverted individual.

And you see it in the small things like he becomes more comfortable around strangers. He's willing to shake people's hands. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I missed you, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden, he's talking to us.

YOUSSIF: How are you doing (ph)?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Youssif has absolutely changed since he got here. People have been so welcoming. And I think that's been reassuring both to Youssif and his family. So I feel like, between that and the opportunities he's had to just play and be a kid, he's really kind of come out of his shell.

GUPTA: Youssif's father agreed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: He is very happy. All of us are very happy. We are treated very well. I cannot express how well.

GUPTA: Donations from CNN's viewers and users from around the world were paying for Youssif's living expenses and medical care.

But a new trauma loomed. Surgery, now only a day away. Surgeon Peter Grossman warned of a difficult road ahead for a boy who had already endured so much.

DR. PETER GROSSMAN, SURGEON: I'm going get him through this as painlessly as I can. But I'm also going be honest with him, and I'm going to be honest with his folks. I can't do this pain-free. There's going to be some good times, and there's some to be some bad times.

GUPTA: Youssif's operation also came with dangers. Although his skin was burned, it was still protecting his face. But once that scarred tissue was cut away, Youssif was at an increased risk of infection.

And Youssif's face cannot be perfectly restored to the way he was before he was burned.

GROSSMAN: You can never get rid of scars when they're burned. All you're really trying to do is trade one for another. Make one smaller, make on better, make one more cosmetically appealing.

GUPTA: It was time to leave for the hospital. Youssif was excited. His parents, understandably anxious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to go over here to the nurse's station.


GUPTA: At the hospital, Youssif was giddy. Zaineb said her son was looking forward to having his face fixed to he could go home and play with his cousins.

Youssif's father risked his life to get help for his son. The surgery imminent, the long-awaited moment was bittersweet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: What can I say? I am both happy and sad for him. I'm happy we could make it here. Honestly, it's been very difficult to get here. But sad because he's just a child. A boy, suffering.

GUPTA: Morning, Youssif woke up early at the Grossman Burn Center.

GROSSMAN: Good morning. Salem.

GUPTA: Dr. Grossman made a final visit with Youssif and his family before surgery.

GROSSMAN: This is my daddy, and he's going to help us with making you better, too.

GUPTA: Accompanying him was his father, Dr. Richard Grossman, who would also be taking part in the surgery and who inspired his son to follow in his footsteps.

GROSSMAN: My dad started the Grossman Burn Center in 1969 and just an incredible role model. He's someone who gives of himself and the rewards that you can get from giving.

I'm very lucky I have a nice job. I make a nice living, and I love what I do. But there's no amount of money that can replace that smile on someone's face and that thanks that they give you. And when I was a kid, I used to see them doing that to my dad. And I said, "I want that."

I'll take good care of him, like he's my own boy, OK?

GUPTA: Dr. Grossman let me scrub in, to observe. He showed me how he hopes to undo much of what an unspeakably cruel act has done to this 5-year-old boy.

GROSSMAN: We'll basically be excising this thickened scar tissue around here.

GUPTA: He planned to remove scar tissue from around Youssif's nose and insert tissue expanders, small balloons, under the healthy skin in Youssif's cheek and neck. Over time, Dr. Grossman hoped to stretch the healthy skin so it could replace the heavy scars on Youssif's chin, jaw line, and next to his ear.

GROSSMAN: Now, it's time to operate.

GUPTA (on camera): All right.

YOUSFIF: (crying) GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Grossman took Youssif's case for free and expected to perform half a dozen or more operations over the next year. How Youssif fared in this initial operation would play an enormous role in how well the boy healed and how much evidence remained of the attack that disfigured his young face.

For me, it was a fascinating close-up view of state-of-the-art burn surgery. For Youssif's parents, it's an ordeal of waiting.

GROSSMAN: This is the expander that we're going to be using. And what I'll end up doing right now is marking out with a marking pen the pocket that I need to develop. So Kurt (ph) will kind of circle that, giving me a little bit of leeway on each side, so I can, you know, have it laid out smoothly.

This is not a sure thing.

GUPTA: Next, Youssif emerges from surgery, and the bandages come off.




GUPTA (voice-over): Nine months after masked gunmen in Baghdad doused Youssif with gasoline and set him on fire, California plastic surgeon Peter Grossman tried to undo what that evil act had done, very carefully.

A warning: some of the images we're showing are graphic.

GROSSMAN: The things that I have to be concerned about here, he's got his trachea, his airway right in the midline. And you can see his pulsation here. This is his carotid vessel coming up here.

GUPTA: Dr. Grossman inserted a small balloon called a skin expander in Youssif's cheek and another in his neck just millimeters away from his airway and the vital carotid artery.

Expanding Youssif's healthy skin would allow Dr. Grossman to remove most of Youssif's scars.

The final step of the operation was removing the thick scar tissue on Youssif's forehead and on either side of his nose.

GROSSMAN: This is going release the tightness and actually be of significant benefit to Youssif. Today what we're going to do is just prepare this wound bed for eventually taking some skin grafts from other parts of his body. Today's skin graft will just be a temporary skin graft made out of cadaver skin.

GUPTA: Three and a half hours after it began, the operation was over.

GROSSMAN: Guys, you were terrific. Muchos gracias. It's a lot of work and a lot of people here. Got my "A" team.

GUPTA (on camera): So how did things go?

GROSSMAN: I was pretty pleased how things went today. We were able to accomplish all that we had set our minds to. And everything went without hitch, and for a first-stage operation, I was pretty happy. Hopefully, we'll continue along this course.

GUPTA (voice-over): The sight of Youssif, his head bandaged, was difficult for his parents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: He will get better, God willing. You know, it takes time. One must be patient.

GUPTA: The next day...

GROSSMAN: How's my buddy? How's he been feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not in pain.

GUPTA: ... the bandages came off. But Youssif's transformation was just beginning. And it would look a lot worse before he started looking better.

GROSSMAN: This, we'll take off in surgery. But right here, that's where his balloon is.

They're going to rewrap him with a light dressing. What I want them to do is I want them to get him to walk around a little bit.

GUPTA: The first operation was followed by a second. A skin graft to replace the cadaver skin placed temporarily around his nose. It went well.

GROSSMAN: What we're going to need him to do at home is just put this ointment on three times a way.

GUPTA: After last-minute instructions to Youssif's parents, the 5-year-old was ready to leave the hospital...




GUPTA: ... and head for home, the furnished two-bedroom apartment his family was living in.

Then it's weekly trips to Dr. Grossman, to have saline injected into his tissue expanders.

GROSSMAN: I think we have a very good chance of getting some significant improvement with just being patient and slowly progressing with his tissue expansion.

GUPTA: One treatment Youssif enjoyed was the hyperbaric chamber, nicknamed the spaceship. The pressurized, pure oxygen helps wounds heal.

GROSSMAN: In the process of tissue expansion, we are, in essence, creating a new type of disfigurement. Unfortunately, for a little while, he's going to look worse.

GUPTA: When I met up with Youssif, he was shy as ever but didn't seem too concerned about being out in public with his cheek and neck bulging above the tissue expanders.

(on camera) You know, psychologically, is he doing OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: His psychological status is good.

GUPTA: Does he look at himself in the mirror?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: Yes. Yes.

GUPTA: What does he say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

He looks at himself and he laughs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: And he says, "I will get well."

GUPTA: He's happy.

GROSSMAN: The next operation will be a very, very big improvement for us and for Youssif. Because at that point, we'll see the massive amount of scarring gone.

GUPTA: In the meantime, Youssif returned for weekly visits to have even more saline injected into the balloons in his cheek and neck. That would give Dr. Grossman more healthy skin to work with when the day arrived for that next operation.

Youssif also became more comfortable with Dr. Grossman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three. Woo!

GUPTA: With his medical care on track, Youssif and his family attended a one-day camp held by the Children's Burn Foundation.

KEELY QUINN, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CHILDREN'S BURN FOUNDATION: The goal of today is we brought these families out here. First of all, it's a day of fun. All of these families have really gone through the wringer in terms of they have doctor appointments, hospitals, and just day-to-day life that can be a real challenge.

You know, I think every child that goes through a burn is going to have a different experience. But the biggest thing is that they have gone through a trauma and how they get through that trauma determines how they're going to progress the rest of their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He says he's not scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to grab one? Grab one, good.

GUPTA: Much about the rest of Youssif's life remained a question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little higher now.

GUPTA: How would he heal emotionally and physically? And what would his parents do when his treatment in the United States was over? Would they try to stay or would they go home?

It's hard being a foreigner, Youssif's father said. Talking about her family, Zaineb began to cry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: I miss them a lot.

GUPTA (on camera): In the months ahead, Youssif's parents faced an agonizing decision. If they tried to stay, they'd be safer but a long way from family. If they returned home, they'd have the comfort of family but the dangers of everyday life in Iraq, and they'd be back at that same place where Youssif was attacked.





GUPTA: Two months after arriving in the United States, Youssif and his family sat down to celebrate Thanksgiving with CNN's Arwa Damon, Keely Quinn of the Children's Burn Foundation and her parents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We welcome you to our home and are honored to share with you our American Thanksgiving as we give thanks for all of our many blessings. Time to eat.

GUPTA: Youssif's parents knew they had much to be thankful for, with so many children in Iraq not getting the medical care they need.

DAMON: "Dear Youssif, I just saw the most recent video today and saw you smile."

GUPTA: At the end of his treatment, Youssif's parents face a gut-wrenching choice. Do they leave their close-knit extended family behind and fashion a new life in the United States? Or...

(on camera) Are you going be able to go back to Iraq and get back to your old way of life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: Even if I go back, I'll be afraid because we don't know what's going to happen.

GUPTA (voice-over): A week later, Youssif returned to the Grossman Burn Center for his third operation, this one expected to transform his appearance and allow him to open his mouth much more normally.

When it was time to put on his hospital gown, Youssif knew exactly what was coming.

Dr. Grossman removed the tissue expanders, then cut away Youssif's scars on his chin, jaw line and in front of his ear. Then he used the new, healthy skin to replace what had been thick scar tissue.

GROSSMAN: We've made some good progress. I'm pleased with where we're at. I would have loved to have been able to do a little bit more. But sometimes if you try too hard to do too much, you end up going in the opposite direction.

GUPTA: Recovery was painful for Youssif, and bleeding forced the boy back into the operating room twice in the 24 hours after surgery.


GUPTA: Even with the swelling, it was obvious how dramatically the operation had improved Youssif's appearance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want to see? Do you want to see?

GUPTA: The boy was schedule for more surgery in the coming months, but the first three operations had undone much of the scarring caused when Youssif was set on fire.

Before his first operation, Youssif talked about getting his face fixed so he could return to play with his cousins in Baghdad. Now his parents said Youssif was scared. He was asking why were there terrorists in Iraq but no terrorists in the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: He always tells me if I go back I will die. If you go back, you will die.

GUPTA (on camera): So Youssif thinks that if he goes back to Iraq, he'll die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

GRAPHIC: He's afraid of terrorists. And he says, "They will kill us."

GUPTA (voice-over): No doubt, life in America was safer. But it was not home, at least not yet. If they stayed, they'd need to translate their dreams and hopes from Arabic to English...



GUPTA: ... that their son gets his smile back and fulfills his dream to become a doctor.

GROSSMAN: Bye, Youssif.

GUPTA: No matter where they wind up, Youssif carries the hopes of everyone touched by his story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I want you to be happy again. You and your family deserve a good life, a happy and healthy one, too. Love, Holly (ph)."

DAMON: I would hope for him to be able to achieve everything that he has dreamed of, everything that his parents dreamed of for him.

GROSSMAN: First and foremost, I'd like to see him walk out of that hospital with a smile on his face, knowing that he can go back and be a kid.

QUINN: My hope is that, at the end of this process, he can be a confident, happy, smiling kid again. And this will always be a part of him, but it's not necessarily who he is.

GUPTA (on camera): Youssif's story represents the extremes of human behavior. From an act of unspeakable cruelty inflicted on a child to the generosity and compassion of thousands of people around the world who heard Youssif's story and gave from their hearts. The one constant: a mother and father's boundless love for their son.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching.