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Doctor tells Youssif: We'll make you a lot better

  • Story Highlights
  • Burned Iraqi boy will undergo eight to 10 surgeries in coming months
  • Youssif's medical treatment in California follows CNN story about him
  • Youssif remains cautious around doctor but eventually warms up
  • By the end of first visit, the boy, 5, and doctor shake hands
  • Next Article in U.S. »
By Arwa Damon and Wayne Drash
CNN
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Editor's note: CNN agreed not to use the full names of the family members in this article due to concern for their safety.

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Youssif and his surgeon, Dr. Peter Grossman, shake hands at the end of their Wednesday visit.

SHERMAN OAKS, California (CNN) -- Youssif nervously scanned the doctor's examining room, his dark brown eyes darting around, from the floor to the wall to the ceiling. His mother stroked his hair and then his forehead to put him at ease before the doctor walked in to the room.

A day earlier, the badly burned 5-year-old Iraqi boy had boarded a plane in Amman, Jordan, with his family, their first trip on an airplane. Now, more than 7,500 miles later, his mom, dad and 14-month-old sister were with him at the Grossman Burn Center in the heart of sunny Southern California.

Dr. Peter Grossman strode into the room, a warm smile across his face. He held Youssif's hand. The boy turned shyly around and buried his face into his father's leg.

"This is not unusual," said Grossman, a plastic surgeon with more than 12 years of experience, including helping one young girl whose face had melted to her shoulder after a horrific accident. Video Watch Youssif show his scars to Grossman for the first time »

A father of two children, Grossman spoke softly and reassured Youssif that they would soon be friends.

"We're going to do everything we can to make him better," he told Youssif's parents.

Perhaps haunted by the pain he suffered in Baghdad's hospitals, Youssif hiccupped back sobs as his father lifted him onto the examination table. But the boy put on a brave face after his father told him to let the doctor do his job.

"Who's the brave one? Youssif," his father whispered reassuringly. "He's not going to hurt you, I promise."

Grossman pulled out measuring tape and took measurements of scars under the boy's chin and around his nose. One swollen scar around his chin measured nearly 3 inches.

He also examined burns on Youssif's hands, forehead and right ear. At one point, Youssif thrust his head back and opened his mouth as best he could for the doctor. But his lips barely separated, their movement hampered by the swollen, hardened flesh.

"What we want to eventually do is be able to get him to open his mouth as wide as he can," Grossman said.

Youssif faces eight to 10 operations, possibly more, over the next six to eight months. He also will undergo psychological therapy to help him better adapt to all that has happened to him. Photo See photos of the boy's arrival in the U.S. »

On January 15, masked men grabbed Youssif outside his central Baghdad home, doused him in gas and set him on fire.

Grossman won't be able to make all the scars go away, he said, but he's confident that "we can make him significantly better."

"We're going to do everything we can to move forward and to do a good job," he said.

The boy's mother nodded solemnly. "I just want my son's smile back," she told the doctor. Watch how masked men stole a boy's smile Video

Youssif was introduced to his other doctors, a pediatrician and anesthesiologist. The boy cuddled into the warm confines of his father's chest. His dark eyes kept a keen watch on all those around him.

His first operation could come as early as next week and involve multiple procedures. Grossman will cut away scar tissue around his nose and put temporary skin from a cadaver over it.

"We're also going to stick a balloon underneath the good skin under his neck and on his face," the doctor said. "The purpose of that is over time we will stretch the good skin, so that in about three months he will be able to go back to surgery, remove the scar tissue and pull up the stretched out good tissues."

Grossman eventually will work to repair Youssif's upper lip.

"We're going to make you a lot better," he said.

With that, the doctor brought this introductory session to a close. The two shook hands. He also tried teaching Youssif an American guy classic: hitting your fists together in cool approval.

Youssif watched and listened. He stretched his fist out, then pulled it back. He looked up at his father and then slammed his fist with his father's -- the only man this wounded boy trusts right now.

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His father caressed his son's hair and planted a soft kiss on his head. He risked so much for this moment for his son.

This was more than just a journey from Iraq to America. "I'm emotionally exhausted," Youssif's dad said. "We went from death to a new life." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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