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Friday, May 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Iraqi child doing well after facial surgery

Seattle Times staff reporter

The fresh stitches curve across Hamoody's swollen face as he crawls out from the red comforter and asks his foster mother, Julie Robinett Smith, for a hug.

After an eight-hour surgery last Friday to repair extensive damage to his face, Muhammed "Hamoody" Hussein, 4, is steadily recovering at the Snohomish home of his foster parents. One minute he wants to snuggle and be rocked, the next minute, he wants to shoot toy cannons and roar like a pirate.

"A good pirate," Smith adds as she rubs his back.

Hamoody is fixated on pirates. He cried, "I'm a pirate. I'm a pirate," as he was wheeled out of Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, where he had been since his surgery. Having been brought here by the nonprofit Healing the Children in May 2006, it took a year of tests and ultimately switching doctors and hospitals before Hamoody underwent surgery to rebuild his face. At last, Hamoody has a new nose and eye socket — formed by a transplanted rib bone.

Hamoody, whose family is Shiite, was only 2 when he was shot in the face by Sunni insurgents in May 2005. He was left blind, his sinuses destroyed and he was unable to breathe properly. There were disfiguring wads of scar tissue where his nose should be and he had sleep apnea so severe that he was at risk of brain damage from lack of oxygen, doctors said.

Dr. Joseph Gruss, an expert in cranio-facial surgery and repairing gunshot wounds, donated his services and rebuilt the bone structure of Hamoody's face in the first of what is expected to be several surgeries.

The next surgery — done only when the first has thoroughly healed — will continue to fine-tune scar tissue. Smith spent four nights sleeping in the hospital at Hamoody's bedside. And now that he is home, her challenge is keeping him quiet despite the stampede of gift-bearing visitors.

"You're an angel for doing this," Mali Malkandi, an Iranian-born friend said the other day as she dropped in for a visit.

"We do this because we love him," Smith replied.

They talk about "s-c-h-o-o-l," spelling it so Hamoody won't pester his foster mom about returning too soon to his developmental preschool where he's learned to use Braille and a white cane like an antennae to feel out the world. Next week he will be allowed to suit up for soccer practice and stand on the sidelines to cheer on his team of other disabled children. And in a few weeks he'll be back to see Gruss.

Until then, it's milkshakes and soft foods and sedate indoor activities — blue, yellow and green Legos, a toy guitar and lots of books with textured pages that Smith can read to him.

Eventually, he is to return to his family in Iraq.

"Wherever he goes, he will always be my boy," Smith said as Hamoody tossed Legos around the room.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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