10 years later, Iraqi boy reunites with Eugene doctor who saved his life

15-year-old Mustafa Abed & Dr. Garret Zallen met 10 years ago. They reunited in Eugene, May 31, 2018. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. -- 15-year-old Mustafa Abed first met Dr. Garret Zallen 10 years ago.

Both Mustafa and his mom were injured during a US airstrike on their town in Fallujah, Iraq.

"Everything inside his stomach was on the floor; he was on the ground," recalled Nidal Abed.

Mustafa has one leg and major internal injuries.

He first came to Oregon with the help of a group called No More Victims.

"We were blessed, thanking God that they got him," Nidal said.

"He never would have survived," said volunteer Ned Rosch.

After the procedure, he headed back to Iraq.

Rosch says they tried to stay connected: "He was stable, but we also knew that he had serious internal injuries and he was going back to a war zone and his family is poor."

After a couple months they lost contact.

Years went by. Then, a PBS story aired featuring Mustafa at a refugee camp after Isis took over Fallujah.

Volunteers along with the doctor who operated on him all those years ago saw the piece and worked to bring him back.

When Dr. Garrett Zallen saw Mustafa, he brought the case to PeaceHealth administrators. PeaceHealth is now waiving all costs for the procedure.

"We knew that we wanted him to come back when we had him go home last time," said Dr. Zallen, a pediatric surgeon at PeaceHealth Riverbend. "There was more work to do. I don't think any of us imagined it would take this long to get him to come back."

He says much has changed since his last visit.

"The difference also is, this time, I'm coming to safety," Mustafa said, "I feel the difference."

When asked if he feels brave, he laughs us off.

"Mustafa puts a human face on what war is."

The surgery he's having in Eugene is critical to his health. While it will help, despite all he's been through, Mustafa says he's still going back to war-torn Iraq.

"I would love to learn more English," he said. "I would love the chance to see more."

He has hopes that his studies will one day allow him to be a doctor, in recognition to the very ones who saved his life.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off