Noora’s journey toward recovery continues with return trip to US

November 22, 2011 4:37 pm Published by

The report was carried by the Portland Press Herald in Maine. NMV Editor’s Note: The sniper who shot Noora was an American solider.

Noora Afif Abdulhameed, an Iraqi girl who spent almost a year in Maine undergoing surgery to repair damage to her skull inflicted by a sniper’s bullet, will return to Portland later this year or in early 2011 to go through a final medical procedure.

Noora was 6 years old when she arrived in Portland in July 2008 to undergo critical surgeries to repair her shattered skull. The procedures were successful, but complications stretched her stay in Maine until last summer.

Noora still needs some cosmetic work on part of her skull that lacks hair. Susi Eggenberger, an Arundel resident who helped bring Noora to the United States through the group No More Victims, said she recently started the process of planning the girl’s return to Maine.

“My guess is, if we can get it off the ground, it will be late fall or beginning of winter, or something like that,” Eggenberger said. “I’m just beginning to look into it and look into immigration, so I’ve got a ways to go.”

Noora has a graft of thigh skin on the back of her head, the result of previous operations, that she covers with a wig piece. When she returns to Maine, a surgeon will insert balloon expanders under the part of her scalp that still has hair, then bring that flap of skin forward to cover the part of her head that is bare.

When Noora and her father, Afif Abdulhameed Otaiwi, returned to Iraq in June 2009, Eggenberger and her husband, Doug Rogers, had hoped to communicate with them through e-mail and Skype. But that hasn’t worked out because of computer and Internet issues in Iraq.

So Eggenberger and Rogers speak with the family by phone every six weeks instead, even though a satellite delay makes carrying on a conversation difficult.

Another issue is Noora’s grasp of English. When Noora lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland, she quickly picked up the language and even started using some American slang. She spoke better English than her father, who attended regular English lessons.

While Otaiwi has lost some of his facility with English since going home to Iraq, “he’s doing well,” Eggenberger said.

“Noora, on the other hand, has pretty much lost her ability to communicate in English, so that’s kind of sad,” she said.

Noora jumps up and down with excitement when the phone rings, and says “Hi Susi,” when she answers, but that’s about the extent of their conversation, according to Eggenberger.

“(Otaiwi) says he tries to talk to her in English, and she’s interested in it,” Eggenberger said. “She tries to remember.”

During her time in Maine, Noora learned American customs, such as how to trick-or-treat, and made her first snowball.

But she also missed the birth of a sister and had minimal contact with her mother and other siblings. Her father lost his job as a high school history teacher.

Since their return to Iraq, Noora has completed first grade, and her father got his job back.

But life in their hometown of Heet is still not safe. The last time Eggenberger spoke with the family, there had been a terrorist attack in town, and a family living a few houses down from them had been killed.

Otaiwi, Eggenberger said, “has been busy. He’s built a two-bedroom addition on their house, and he’s fixed up the mill that his father had owned that was bombed.”

Otaiwi and one of his sons are making furniture at the mill to bring in some extra money, “but he said sales are not good because no one has any money to buy anything.”

Noora and her father are looking forward to coming back to Maine, where they made many new friends, Eggenberger said.

“He talks about how he misses people,” she said, “and wants me to say hi to everybody.”

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This post was written by Cole Miller

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