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Youssif OK after complications

  • Story Highlights
  • Youssif suffers complications after Thursday surgery, but bleeding has stopped
  • Youssif is joyous at being able to open his mouth fully again
  • "My mouth is open! I can fit the whole fork into it!"
  • Youssif to have stitches removed Friday
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By Arwa Damon and Atia Abawi
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Editor's note: CNN agreed not to use the full names of the family members in this article because of concern for their safety.

This photograph shows Youssif's new chin after the scar tissue was removed.

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- "I said to myself, 'This is it. I'm going to lose my son,' " Youssif's father said.

He was describing complications that arose after Thursday's surgery on Youssif, his 5-year-old son who was badly burned in Iraq by masked men. The father traveled more than 7,500 miles with his family to get help for his boy, and here he was suddenly worrying about his son's life.

Youssif had undergone his most important surgery last Thursday, one that removed a scar that stretched more than half a foot across his face. But a few hours after the initial joyous celebration of a successful surgery, Youssif's sheets were soaked in blood.

Lead surgeon Dr. Peter Grossman and his team quickly returned to the operating room to locate the source of the bleeding. It was an arterial blood vessel and it was brought under control in half an hour.

But Youssif's ordeal was far from over.

Overnight his sheets were soaked with blood once again, and he was wheeled back into the operating room for the third time in 24 hours. This time, it was also an arterial bleed, but on the other side of his face.

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

Grossman and his team had to re-open all of Youssif's stitches -- about 60 to 100 of them -- to locate the source of the bleeding in a process that lasted 1 hours.

"It was not life-threatening, but it was flap threatening" Grossman said, referring to the healthy skin that was pulled up over Youssif's former scars.

Over the last two months, balloons were inflated to create the "good skin" that the doctors used to replace the heavy scarring on his chin and right cheek. Youssif ran the risk of his face rejecting the new skin in post-surgery. See how Grossman removed Youssif's scars »

Before the surgery, Grossman had said the biggest risks in such surgeries is bleeding, because of the sensitivity of the facial region.

"It is rare to go back in once, let alone twice," said Grossman. "We will do some studies to see if he has had any bleeding problems." Video Watch CNN's Sanjay Gupta describe the complications »

But by Friday afternoon, Youssif's recovery was back on track. He spent an hour in the hospital's hyperbaric oxygen chamber, where he watched one of his favorite cartoons, Disney's "Aladdin," through puffy but intent eyes.

Throughout the day, he lay in his bed exhausted, dozing periodically. His mother, Zaineb, sitting next to her son, asked if he was thirsty. Youssif, through his bulging lips, said, "Pepsi," in a clearer voice than he has had in a very long time.

By Saturday he was bouncing around his room. "I ate," he announced proudly. Although his little head was tightly wrapped in bandages, he was able to open his mouth much farther than before.

"Look, Daddy, my mouth is open! I can fit the whole fork into it and I can take big bites!" he said.

"I wish I could have avoided them [his parents] going through an emotional roller-coaster," Grossman said Monday after Youssif's bandages were changed and he was given the doctor's approval to go to his temporary home in metro Los Angeles. Video Watch Youssif get a kiss from his little sister before surgery »

Youssif -- who was grabbed outside his home by masked men, doused in gas and set on fire January 15 -- remained ecstatic over little things, like being able to stick his tongue out again.

"I can see all my teeth! I can stick my tongue out all the way!" he said to his dad while waiting to leave the hospital. users -- along with the Grossman Burn Center and the Children's Burn Foundation -- came to Youssif's aid after learning about his plight, raising more than $300,000 for his treatment and enabling him and his family to travel to the United States.


"I am so happy," said Youssif's father, his voice filled with joy. "I wished there was a translator to tell the doctor how much I wanted to thank him. I said, 'Thank you,' but I wanted to say so much more that we got to this stage. I know that there are more surgeries, but already Youssif is so happy."

Youssif's stitches come out Friday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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