St. Joan of Arc parishioners rally around Iraqi family

| December 15, 2010 | 0 Comments

From left, Shaymaa Hasan and her son, Mustafa, enjoy playing music with Gabriel Lutter-Gardella and his father, Christopher, at their home in south Minneapolis. Shaymaa and Mustafa arrived in the Twin Cities from Iraq in September and are here so Mustafa can receive treatment for injuries from an electrical burn he suffered in Iraq. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

On a snowy night in the Twin Cities, Shaymaa Hasan stepped outside the door of a south Minneapolis home to watch the flakes fall gently from the sky.

She leaned out through the doorway and cupped her hands together to catch the snow. As the flakes landed, her face lit up and she squealed with delight.

This was a most unfamiliar experience for the 28-year-old who grew up in Iraq and made her first trip to Minnesota earlier this fall. As it turns out, she could be around until the snow starts to melt in March.

The reason for her visit is her 8-year-old son, Mustafa, who was severely burned in an electrical accident in his hometown of Najaf and needs medical care he only can get in the United States.

Thanks to the generosity of pa­rish­ioners at St. Joan of Arc in Min­neapolis, he will get everything he needs, including a prosthetic leg.

Due to complications from his injuries and lack of timely care, his right leg was amputated below the knee at a hospital in Iraq. He also lost two toes on his left foot and suffered damage to his left shoulder.

Making a difference

The story began about a year ago, when a group of St. Joan parishioners and the pastor, Father Jim DeBruycker, asked local Iraqis what they could do to help the war-torn country.

The answer: Provide medical care for Iraqi children. Immediately, Father DeBruycker put a notice in the church bulletin soliciting ideas and volunteers.

Enter Marie Braun, a peace activist longing for a chance to make a difference, and Terri Kasbohm, director of patient care services at Shriners Hospital for Children in Minnea­po­lis.

Braun saw the notice and stepped forward to help. So did Kasbohm, who said the hospital routinely provides charity care for children in three areas — orthopedics, oncology and burn treatment.

The next step was asking a local Iraqi, Sami Rasouli, to help find a child who met the criteria. He makes regular visits to Iraq, so he went back to look for someone who qualified for the kind of help Shriners could offer.

“The first patient he found was Mustafa,” Kasbohm said. “Mustafa met the age requirements.”

But, before he could come, the parish needed to come up with money to pay for his and his mother’s airfares. Then, they needed a place for them to stay while they went back and forth to visit hospitals and doctors.

Jeannette and Chris Lutter-Gardella agreed to be the host family, along with their two children, Gabriel, 6, and Asialy Bracey-Gardella, 14.

The opportunity did not come at the greatest time, as both parents were battling with underemployment and a kitchen remodeling project. Nevertheless, they accepted Braun’s invitation to receive the two Iraqis into their home.

“I thought, ‘Now? When we’re having a shortage of work?’” said Chris, a freelance artist and musician struggling to find jobs. “But I have a belief that when things are difficult, people need to pull together and help each other. That’s what this is all about.”

Added Jeannette: “You give of your means. I feel a deep responsibility [to help] and I want to pass that along to my children. . . . It’s our act of peace. It’s how we live our value — that peace is not just the ab­sence of war, it’s an active process.”

Medical community chips in

Shaymaa and Mustafa arrived on Sept. 18. Parish­ioners and Shriners got the ball rolling instantly. During Mustafa’s first visit to Shriners, there was a doctor there that day from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester who specializes in the type of surgery Mustafa needed on his left shoulder.

That proved to be providential, as the staff at Shriners did not know about his shoulder problems and, more important, was not in a position to treat them even had it known.

Continuing the generosity already bestowed upon the boy, Dr. Steven Moran said he would ask his superiors at Mayo if they would cover the cost of the surgery, which is scheduled to take place in the next couple of weeks and could cost well over $100,000, according to Kasbohm.

It doesn’t end there. Mustafa needed another test that Shriners couldn’t perform, so he was referred to Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. The staff there got into the act when Kasbohm made a phone call.

“I did call the CFO there and asked if he would be willing to waive the charges, and he said he would,” Kasbohm said. “The charges turned out to be $13,000. I was so touched with Gillette’s humanity in this — very nice. This wasn’t something they were expecting, nor was it really something we were expecting. So, that was very impressive to me.

“I’m very proud of our health community — not just Shriners but Mayo and Gillette — to work together to help this little boy get what he needs. It’s really been awe-inspiring to me. I continue to just feel the Holy Spirit is definitely at work.”

So far, Mustafa has had surgery on the stump of his right leg to remove bone growth, and has been fitted with a prosthetic leg. After his shoulder surgery, Mustafa will have six to eight weeks of recovery before he and Shaymaa can go back to Iraq and be reunited with her husband and five other children.

But the story is not over.

Doing what it takes

Mustafa will need return visits to get new prosthetics as he outgrows existing ones, plus any other type of follow-up care. And, St. Joan of Arc will be there to help.

“We will continue to support this little boy,” said Braun, who, along with her husband John are sponsoring Shaymaa and  Mustafa, meaning they are taking responsibility for meeting all of their needs while they’re here. “We have a long-term commitment to him because he needs to come back in a year and get his elbow fixed.

“He will need prostheses every year or two. You can’t give him a prosthesis and say, ‘Tough, we’re done with you now.’ Morally, we have to commit ourselves to this young boy until he’s old enough [to live independently]. . . . You can’t start something and then stop it right in the middle.”

Staying involved with the two Iraqis is just fine with Father DeBruycker, who has faith his parishioners can do what it takes.

“I have no qualms; whatever they need, they’ll get it from us,” he said. “I have no fear asking this parish for the money to cover [expenses].”

What this all means for the little boy and his mother is simply — yet profoundly — expressed in a short piece of broken English she has learned in the classes she has taken since coming here: “I wish me and my family here in Minnesota. It’s good for Mustafa.”

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