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Amputee boy walks again: 'My life is back'

  • Story Highlights
  • Boy hurt in Iraq gets prosthetic limb: "I am very happy"
  • UNICEF spokeswoman says the lives of Iraqi children are being "slowly eroded"
  • Loss of education, threats of disease, loss of fathers all affect Iraq's kids
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By Arwa Damon and Wayne Drash
CNN
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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Mohammed Rasoul, a 12-year-old Iraqi boy whose right leg was blown off during a car bomb attack, gingerly stands on his new prosthetic limb and then struggles to walk using parallel bars to help with his balance.

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Mohammed Rasoul, 12, lost his right leg in an attack in Iraq. Here, he walks on his new prosthetic limb.

It's been nearly two years since Mohammed was seriously wounded in a bomb attack in Falluja. His 6-year-old cousin was killed in front of his eyes. Insurgents were believed to be targeting a nearby U.S. military convoy in the often violent city. Now he is thousands of miles away -- in the Shriners Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.

"I am very happy today, I take leg and I am walking," he says in hesitant English, laughing before switching into Arabic. "My life is back, a new life. I was in Iraq, and I lost my life."

His mother, Jinan Mohammed, is overcome with emotion.

"I am seeing him big and tall," she says, wiping away tears.

"It's a strange emotion. It's been two years since I last saw him standing like this. I don't have anything to offer, just my prayers." Video Watch Mohammed walk for the first time »

Mohammed is one of tens of thousands of children whose lives have been devastated by the Iraq war. But he is among the very few to be able to get the care they so desperately need. In Mohammed's case, it is thanks to Elissa Montanti, founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund, which brought him and his mother to the United States. Photo See photos of wounded children get help »

CNN.com users have come to know and love Youssif, a 5-year-old Iraqi boy who was doused in gasoline and set on fire by masked men in Baghdad. But he is just one of thousands of Iraqi children caught in the crosshairs of the war.

There are no accurate estimates of the number of Iraqi children wounded or killed in the violence. Claire Hajaj, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in Amman, Jordan, says it's easily into the thousands. But the effect of the war on Iraqi kids goes far beyond that -- from a general loss of education to outbreaks of disease to being forced onto the streets to survive. In many cases, fathers have been killed, leaving families on their own without their sole breadwinner. Impact Your World: How you can help

"What we miss is that every one child who gets killed or injured in one of these catastrophic attacks, there are hundreds -- hundreds, literally -- who are having their lives slowly eroded by the consequences of this conflict," Hajaj says.

Rescuing Youssif
Watch a CNN exclusive "Impact Your World -- Rescuing Youssif" about an Iraqi boy's ordeal
Dec. 24 at 10 p.m. ET; Dec. 25 at 4 p.m. ET

Iraq's medical institutions also are in shambles, overwhelmed by years of war. Most of Iraq's doctors have fled or were killed. Hospitals also suffer from a lack of medicine and sanitation.

According to a report by Save the Children earlier this year, Iraq's child mortality rate has increased by 150 percent since 1990, more than any other country.

"Since 2003, electricity shortages, insufficient clean water, deteriorating health services and soaring inflation have worsened already difficult living conditions," the report said. "Some 122,000 Iraqi children [1 in 8] died in 2005 before reaching their fifth birthday."

The dangerous security situation prevents most aid agencies from fully operating. Oftentimes, the only way to help the children is to get them out of the country. See badly wounded children treated in Jordan »

"No child should have to live their life imprisoned in their own body for the lack of a 45-minute operation that can bring them into society and change their life," says William McGee, the founder of the aid group Operation Smile.

His organization provides reconstructive facial surgery to children and young adults around the globe, and it has helped dozens of young Iraqis since the war began.

In Mohammed's case, he was treated inside Iraq extensively. He had 11 surgeries after his leg was amputated. But his doctors in America found shrapnel embedded in his left knee -- his good one -- and had to operate. The shrapnel was not found by doctors in Iraq, and the limb was changing shape, making Mohammed bowlegged.

Montanti says it's imperative that children like Mohammed get the medical help they deserve. It costs her about $4,200 to get a child and his or her parent from Iraq into the United States. She teams with Shriners, which provides the medical care.

"All children are equal and these children need us. They need us so bad," Montanti says. "They come here in wheelchairs; some don't even have crutches. And they go home walking proud. Their dignity is restored."

Montanti says her waiting list of Iraqi children is growing, but what is lacking is the funding to get them the proper treatment.

"I function on a prayer, literally," she says. "We have no paid staff, we are not this paid organization. We are very small, making a huge impact on these children and on these parents' lives."

That impact goes beyond medical care. Jinan Mohammed's entire perspective about Americans has changed.

"People in Iraq and in the Arab world think that they [Americans] are our enemy," she says emphatically. "It's just the opposite. They helped me at the airport. Everywhere I go, the Americans help me. Let this truth get out!"

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The help has transformed her son's life. But he still has one more wish.

"I wish that they would help all the other children like me that were harmed by the war, by the bombs in Iraq," he says. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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