- Published: Friday, 24 February 2006 00:00
I know firsthand about the problems described in this dispatch, and I have written about the medical staff featured in the story. Photographs were supplied by Major David L. Brown MD.]
When soldiers write home from Iraq, it’s the kids they focus on. In Mosul, soldiers from 1st Brigade, 24th Infantry of the Stryker Brigade (known as Deuce Four) noticed a young boy dragging himself on the ground to keep up with his friends. The boy’s feet were raw with sores from the dirt roads. His wheelchair had been stolen.
Major David Brown, M.D., Battalion Surgeon for Deuce Four, met the boy in one of the health clinics they set up for Iraqis.
“There was nothing further we could do for him medically,” he recalls. “It just tore your heart out; he was an engaging, happy kid – just ripping the skin off of his feet.”
Through his connections with Iraqi doctors, Maj. Brown and Deuce Four found the boy a replacement wheelchair. But the adult-size chair, made for an obese person, was too big to fit through the door of the family’s home.
“We were pretty stoked that we got the guy a wheelchair,” recalls Maj. Brown. “But you could tell his mother was a little disappointed.”
Back at the chapel of Forward Operating Base Marez, Maj. Brown unburdened his frustration at the somewhat mixed results. Brad Blauser, a civilian contractor also based at Marez, asked what he could do.
“It would sure be great if we could get these kids some wheelchairs,” he told Blauser.
“That’s all it took, just me thinking out loud,” Brown recalls. “Brad just has a pure heart for helping people.”
Blauser wrote home to all of the 300 people on his email distribution list. His friends wrote to their friends.
“E-mail is a pretty small world,” says Blauser. “People are just chomping at the bit to help soldiers and to help the Iraqis. They just didn’t know how to help. This was something that gave them an outlet.”
In the end, 36 children got into wheelchairs last year after the grassroots effort that eventually became Wheelchairs For Iraqi Kids.
War, chemical weapons, sanctions and hard life took a toll on even the ones too young to remember Saddam Hussein. In Mosul, where many of the Kurdish fled in the 1990s after Saddam’s Army dropped chemical weapons, children with birth defects can be seen on nearly any street in this city of over two million.
This year, there are 100 more children’s wheelchairs ready to go as soon as they can be purchased. They normally retail for nearly $1000, but Reach Out And Care Wheels, a Montana-based nonprofit organization, got vendors to provide them at a cost of $200. The 101st Airborne has agreed to ship the wheelchairs to Iraq if they can get to Kentucky in time.
The chairs, which are refurbished by inmates in the Colorado correctional system, are designed for the dirt streets and uneven terrain of Iraq.
“The wheelchairs are built for the third world; they feature thick bicycle tires, but they’re not plastic garden chairs on a cheap frame,” says Blauser, 40, from Fort Worth, Texas.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. “With a population of over two million in Mosul, I don’t think we’ll be able to get every child a wheelchair, but I’d love to see as many sent over as possible.”
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