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Crashing cars on the carpet with Youssif

  • Story Highlights
  • More than $300,000 in donations have come in for Youssif's fund
  • Youssif's mood already seems to have brightened
  • Surgeon: "We're going to make you a lot better"
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By Wayne Drash
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. Here, CNN.com's Wayne Drash describes meeting Youssif.

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Youssif happily played on the playground at his apartment complex Wednesday.

WOODLAND HILLS, California (CNN) -- I don't speak Arabic, but I do speak the universal language of boy.

Youssif sat on the carpet of his new apartment clutching a Matchbox car. He might've just arrived in the States, but there are signs his mood is already changing.

He signaled to me. It was a sign I am well familiar with, being the father of a 3-year-old boy. Get on the floor and let's crash cars. Youssif and I held our hands in the air, counting, "One, two, three!" Me in English. He, Arabic.

We made several passes with the cars, to no avail. They swerved, just missing each other. Finally, it happened. Smash. A perfect crash. The kind that any guy can be proud of. I pumped my fists. Youssif cracked a smile, noticeable despite the severe scars on his face.

We tried it several more times, Youssif getting more excited with each shove of his car. He talked to me. I don't know exactly what he said, but I'm pretty sure it was the Arabic version of: Let's slam the cars into each other even harder this time!

Being here with this family, it's hard to fully comprehend the pain they have endured. A defenseless boy snatched by masked men and set ablaze. It makes me shudder. Video Watch CNN's Arwa Damon describe the journey to U.S. »

His mother says Youssif points to other kids and sometimes asks, "Why isn't his face burned?" Other times, he looks at his adorable 14-month-old sister, Ayaa. "Why is her face normal?" he asks.

Imagine being a parent confronted with those questions from your 5-year-old boy. What do you say? Those are questions this mom and dad grapple with every day, sometimes every hour. They worry about the lingering psychological effects the attack has had on Youssif.

On this day, we toured the family's new living quarters at a suburban Los Angeles apartment complex: Manicured lawns, a playground, swimming pools, tennis courts and a basketball court. It had everything.

Youssif jumped on the playground equipment, climbing up ladders and whizzing down the slides.

The boy was a boy again. A happy boy again. Photo See Youssif play with his new toys »

He met the doctors who will soon begin surgeries to repair his scarred face. "We're going to make you a lot better," said Dr. Peter Grossman, his surgeon at the Grossman Burn Center.

Across the room, Youssif used markers to color fire engines in a coloring book. His sister stuffed a marker in her mouth. His parents haven't stopped smiling since they arrived.

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Thanks to you, the CNN.com user, more than $300,000 has been donated to a fund for Youssif.

The family left the burn center and made their first trip to McDonald's. Quite fittingly, Youssif got a Happy Meal. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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