Published: April 14, 2010

After life-changing year in Michigan, Iraqi teen returning home

Contact(s): Jason Cody Media Communications office: (517) 432-0924 cell: (734) 755-0210, Corissa Barton Michigan National Guard office: (517) 481-8137

EAST LANSING, Mich. — After a yearlong journey filled with new friends, trips to the ballpark, his first Halloween and numerous medical procedures, a 13-year-old Iraqi boy is leaving mid-Michigan and returning home to his family with a new outlook on life.

Mohammed - thanks to the efforts of a Michigan Army National Guard major, a Michigan State University doctor and Lansing's Sparrow Hospital - will be reuniting with his mother and siblings with a surgically repaired scalp, new movement in his left hand and an abundance of memories from his 12 months in Michigan.

Mohammed was honored April 21 at a ceremony at the Michigan Army National Guard headquarters, 3411 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lansing.  

"His family is anxiously waiting to see him and see how everything has turned out,'" said Army National Guard Maj. David Howell, who met Mohammed in Iraq and brought him to America. "He talks with his mother, brothers and sisters on the phone every 10 days or so, and he really misses them."

The Iraqi teen, who underwent five surgeries and weekly medical appointments since April 2009, was severely injured by an exploding oil lamp when he was a few months old. He was badly burned along the left side of his head, face and body, and has lost most movement in his left hand. He never received proper medical treatment.

Medical efforts were led by Edward Lanigan, a surgeon with MSU's College of Human Medicine who works at Sparrow and is offering his services for free.

"It has meant the world to me to help a genuine hero such as Mohammed," said Lanigan, who noted his family's strong military ties further strengthened his desire to help. "Mohammed is such a loveable child; you just want to help him so much. He's got a personality and smile that just shines across the room."

Lanigan and his team inserted tissue expanders into Mohammed's scalp, repaired his left hand and performed plastic surgery along the left side of the boy's face and head. Also while here, Mohammed had eight cavities filled and a tooth capped thanks to Jackson Pediatric Dentistry and was fitted with eyeglasses by Optometrists of Lansing to improve his vision tenfold. Since coming to Michigan, Mohammed has gained 26 pounds and grew three inches.

The story began in November 2008 when Howell, while on duty in Ramadi, spotted Mohammed with his mother. Howell eventually learned of the boy's story of being burned and how his father was slain by insurgents after they discovered he was working as an interpreter for American forces.

Howell worked with American and Iraqi officials to bring Mohammed to mid-Michigan, where he stayed with the Najis and Saeeds, host families Howell found through the Islamic Center of East Lansing, where Mohammed continued his education at the Greater Lansing Islamic School.

The Iraqi teen continued his love for soccer while in Michigan and found a new team to root for: the Detroit Tigers. When a group of Tigers were in Lansing earlier this year for a promotional visit to the Capitol, Mohammed was able to join them.

"He got the chance to hang out with many of the players and coaches then," Howell said. "We went to several games as well, and he got to meet Justin Verlander, Curtis Granderson and Al Kaline."

While he embraced the Tigers, school was a challenge.

"In Iraq he only attended school three hours a day, so going all day was a little tough for him at times," Howell said. "He loved science and math, and the teachers at the Islamic Center put in extra time with him and were very patient with his reading and English assignments."

To help cover Mohammed's costs, Howell set up a nonprofit organization called Martyr Medical Fund for Children, which provides humanitarian medical assistance and treatment to the children of Iraqi interpreters killed in the line of duty. Also, Howell has worked with the Islamic community in Dearborn to raise funds and plans to provide long-term assistance to Mohammed's family. To make a donation or gather more information about the organization, visit


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

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Mohammed celebrates his 13th birthday with presents. Photo courtesy of Maj. David Howell.

Mohammed celebrates his 13th birthday with presents. Photo courtesy of Maj. David Howell.

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