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Youssif's mom: Why my son?

  • Story Highlights
  • Youssif's mom says her son is stronger than she is
  • Sometimes, she looks at him when he's sleeping and then cries
  • Mother says she always blames herself for what happened to son in Iraq
  • She says the words "thank you" are not enough after her son's treatment in U.S.
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Editor's note: Youssif's mother, Zaineb, spoke with CNN's Arwa Damon to offer this message to CNN.com users who have followed the ordeal of her badly burned son in recent months. The following is the translation from Arabic. CNN agreed not to use her full name out of concern for her and her family's safety.

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Youssif's mom, Zaineb, says she left everything familiar to her so her son could get proper medical care in the U.S.

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- When they told me Youssif went into multiple surgeries after his most important surgery earlier this month, I was in shock. I thought that the surgery had failed. Even now I feel ill at ease, I am still worried about him.

I am tired. I am mentally exhausted. Sometimes I talk to myself. I think that I am in a dream, and I think that Youssif wasn't burned. This whole thing is like a nightmare. I keep wishing that it was just a dream. It changed our entire lives.

His face is gone. It's impossible that he will have his face back, maybe he'll get 70 percent of it back. Sometimes when he sleeps I just look at him and cry. Maybe it's just that I want my son back quickly, and this is something that takes time.

I can't deal with seeing him like this; I am impatient. And then I try to convince myself to be strong.

At least now he can eat -- just recently he was saying, "Mommy, look how much food I can put in my mouth."

My husband cut our daughter's hair short, and she looks just like Youssif did when he was her age. And I said to him, "Leave her hair short, so that at least we can remember what Youssif looked like." Video Watch as Youssif inspires a music video »

We recently pulled his pictures from the Internet and Youssif said, "Look, it's my face before I was burned." His personality is so strong, he is able to deal with all this. Youssif is stronger than we are. It's like he has overcome this. Thankfully, God has given him this strength.

But when I think about my family back in Iraq, I just start to cry. One night I dreamed of my brother -- that he was shot, and I was crying hysterically. And I was running around trying to figure out why anyone would hurt him.

Rescuing Youssif
Watch a CNN exclusive "Impact Your World -- Rescuing Youssif" about the Iraqi boy's ordeal
Monday, 10 p.m. ET; Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET

I have so many conflicting emotions. I am so happy when I see my son happy. I gave up my family for him. Photo See how surgery has allowed Youssif to smile again »

What he's gone through has cut through me -- caused me so much pain. I always blame myself for what happened. If only I hadn't let him play outside on January 15. The day of the incident is always in the back of my mind; I remember every minute. I had picked him up from kindergarten, and I still remember what his smile was like that day. He was so happy and playing.

His teacher had said to him that morning, "Who was it that dressed you so handsome?" And he responded, "Mama." I can't forget those words. We got home, went upstairs, I changed his clothes. I gave him some homework to work on. He ate and went to the roof to ride his bike. I would only let him ride on the roof because of the traffic on our street. Then he said, "I want to go down. I am going to play with the other kids." It was 4 in the afternoon. And then it happened.

I thought it was all over. I never dreamed that I would end up in a country like this that he would get this treatment. My husband went all over the place in Iraq: to the Ministry of Health, Parliament, the Iraqi Red Crescent. But no one could help; no one did anything. My husband was running around like a mad man. Video Watch a father's struggle to find help for his boy »

We stopped caring about anything, caring about the future. We didn't want to live anymore. My relatives tried to help us out, paying for the medicine. The doctors were saying that he would never be back to the way he was. We thought about taking him to Iran. Youssif, my husband, my mother and a friend traveled there. My relatives paid for the trip, but we weren't sure that we could even afford the operation.

A doctor there saw him and said, "I can't do anything -- maybe in a year." But that was expensive. We lost hope. Even if we were able to save all that we could, there was no way that we would ever be able to afford it. We don't have much. We don't know much. My husband barely made enough to feed us.

My husband saw a friend of his one day and his friend asked him, "What's wrong?" His friend said, "Let me introduce you to a guy, Mohammed, at CNN. He might be able to help."

Even that was hard because of the taxi fare to get there. I said to my husband, "Don't bother. No one is going to help us. It won't be worth the cost." I was at my mother's place when he called and said we have to go to CNN. My mother said to me, "Go."

I said, "I am exhausted, my son is lost. No one is helping us." I don't know how my husband ended up convincing me to go.

When I got to CNN, I started to relax even though I wasn't sure that they would actually be able to do anything. I was scared to hope, given all that we had been through. It never crossed my mind that we would end up in America. That was just an impossibility.

I remember seeing the video story on CNN. We couldn't hold back our tears. We were all crying. When I saw it on TV, I started to hope that maybe someone would be moved enough to help us, but I never thought America.

Then, correspondent Arwa Damon called my husband. I was on the roof with him because we couldn't hear properly in the house with the kids screaming. I was so scared during that call. I didn't know if it was good news or bad news. I was staring at him impatiently. And then he said, "There are organizations that want to help us." I screamed out loud and began running around. I couldn't believe it! Video Watch how the global Internet community helped rescue Youssif »

I was crying again, but this time I was crying from happiness. It was either 10 or 11 at night, and my brother came over and said, "Really, is this really going to happen?" And he began to cry as well.

This was the first happiness that we had had since the attack.

Everyone from CNN has been great. Youssif knows all their names. We have been through so much together; we are tied together now. Arwa is like our friend now. She's not a reporter that is reporting just the story. She's like our family now, and she's like my sister. She's so kind, except that we are sometimes scared when she is driving.

Youssif has a great time with them, the CNN crew. He wakes up in the morning and says, "Daddy, are they going to come over?"

I am laughing now listening to my son's cries and laughter as he plays. I gave up everything that is familiar to me for him. It's not that I miss the violence. Of course, I don't. But Iraq is still my country. No matter what, it's my country, my homeland. It's all that I know.

America is full of new things. Even the spoons are different, the toys. Everything is different, and it's something amazing. Iraq doesn't have these things.

I do often wonder: Why me, why my son? We are so lucky. I don't know why my son was chosen to have something so horrible happen to him, and I don't know why we were chosen to come here. I just thank God. The thing that surprised me the most was the people. I mean, there are American soldiers in Iraq that are being killed by Iraqis. And we look Iraqi. I would have expected people here to hate us, but we have seen nothing but kindness.

Even in the supermarket, one of the workers saw Youssif and gave him $5. He's a worker; he probably needs the money, but twice he gave Youssif $5. We have such support here. People stop us in the street, and they just want to pray for us. Once a couple on a bicycle stopped us and said, "Were you on CNN?" We said, "Yes." And they gestured that they would pray for us.

The doctor, Peter Grossman, is great with Youssif. In my eyes, he's the best doctor in the world. He's kind and really takes care of Youssif. See how the doctor removed scars from Youssif's face »

I can't even begin to start to talk about Keely Quinn, the program director with Children's Burn Foundation. She's always with us. Sometimes, she even goes down to Youssif's level. She plays with him. She's almost like family, even though we can't speak the same language. But she's picking up a few words in Arabic, and we picked up some in English.

We're always laughing together, even though we don't always understand what we are laughing about. I think that we exhaust her sometimes.

I just want to thank everyone for what they have done for Youssif. I want to thank CNN, the Children's Burn Foundation and its director, Barbara Friedman -- everyone really. I only pray that God helps them the way that they have helped us. It seems that my words of thanks are empty -- that the words "thank you" are not enough, but I can't find a stronger word. It seems that I am always saying thank you when I mean so much more.

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I can't think of the future now. I live day by day. I don't know what the future holds. All I think about is my son. I am still scared to dream; I don't want to dream. Let me live day by day; it's easier.

-- You can read about the impact of the war on other Iraqi children by clicking here. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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