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Youssif's surgery 'went well,' doctor says

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Youssif out of surgery; doctor pleased, reports no complications
  • Just hours before his reconstructive facial surgery, Youssif shrieked with joy
  • Surgery is first of about eight expected to take place over next several months
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From Arwa Damon and Wayne Drash
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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.

Youssif gets wheeled into surgery at Sherman Oaks Hospital on Thursday.

SHERMAN OAKS, California (CNN) -- Five-year-old Youssif was recovering Thursday from several hours of surgery to repair his badly burned face, and his doctor is happy with the outcome.

"It went well," Dr. Peter Grossman told CNN. "I was very pleased to see that everything went the way we wanted it to. Youssif was scared, but he was a trouper.

"Surgery really went without any complications, and we're very pleased at the outcome."

Grossman said Youssif will have some pain as he recovers.

"But kids are really pretty brave, and they get over the pain relatively quickly," the burn expert said. "And he's shown that he's a brave young boy."

Thursday's surgery at the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital was the first of about eight expected to take place over the next several months. Video Watch CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta explain the goal of Thursday's surgery »

Grossman removed the scarred flesh from Youssif's nose in the first procedure and temporarily placed cadaver skin to stimulate blood vessel growth and prevent infection. After a few days, the cadaver skin will be removed and skin from his belly will then be placed over the scars.

The surgeon will also insert a balloon into his right cheek and underneath his chin where the scarred flesh meets the "good flesh."

Youssif will be injected with steroids into the swollen scar tissue to soften and flatten the tissue. Over the course of about three months, the balloons will be gradually inflated with saline to stretch the "good skin." Once enough good skin has been stretched, he will go back into surgery and have the scar tissue removed and the good skin pulled over it.

Youssif showed his bravery early Thursday at the hospital, but when it was time to go into the operating room, the boy's joyous mood turned into fear.

Hospitals in Baghdad meant only pain. They didn't use anesthetic when he was treated there.

He sobbed as doctors came to take him to the operating room. "No," he said in English, clinging to his father.

Tears rolled down his father's face. His mother wept. The boy held his dad's hand as long as he could. When they had to let go, the boy screamed and cried even more.

Earlier, Youssif had excitedly somersaulted across his bed, his shrieks of joy bouncing off the sterile hospital walls. He raced around the room, crawled under his bed and ran circles.

Within minutes of entering the hospital, Youssif was right at home. Watching her once sullen and withdrawn son, his mother, Zainab, couldn't even put her emotions into words. She just broke down in tears. Across the room, her husband's shoulders began to shake as he cradled his head, trying to hide his emotions.

"I am happy and so upset. I'm not worried about the doctor's abilities. I'm worried about what my son is going to go through," he said softly, clenching his hands. "A 5-year-old shouldn't have to go through this."

Marveling at her boy dressed in a Superman shirt, Zainab said her son hadn't been this joyful since he was so savagely attacked nine months ago, when masked men grabbed Youssif outside his Baghdad home, doused him in gas and set him on fire.

"Even back home in Baghdad, Youssif was never this happy," she said.

"Just look at him," she chatted with her husband. "Remember when we first arrived here and he wouldn't talk to anyone? Look at him now."

In the hospital room next door, Monty Cortes tended to his 6-year-old son being treated for third-degree burns after a go-cart accident last week. He had read about Youssif's story and had hoped he might be able to see him and his family.

"I think it's horrible what they did," he said of Youssif's attackers. "It almost made me cry." He added, "I wanted to say I'm sorry to the parents for what we started in Iraq."

Out in the hospital lobby, a sixth-grader and her dad were so moved by Youssif's story they stopped in. Scottie Harvey, 11, came bearing a teddy bear and purple lion. "I thought it was really brave of him to go through that, so I brought him these," she said.

A handwritten note from the girl included a picture of the sun shining. "I hope you enjoy your new home. Feel better soon!" the note said.

Her father, Scott Harvey, said he and his daughter also were impressed by the courage that Youssif's parents displayed in coming here. "The whole story is really touching."

It was one of the many times when Zainab wished she spoke English.


"Please thank them for me," she said, and then added in halting English, "Thank you."

These are words that Zainab has used countless times since she and her family arrived in the United States a week ago, utterly taken aback by the overwhelming support for their son -- support that has culminated in this surgery for her little boy. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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