A whole new person

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 26, 2012

Afghan boy has changed dramatically since he got prosthetic

A 12-year-old boy in southwest Afghanistan is attending school, playing soccer and helping around his home with the aid of a prosthetic leg he received this year during a three-month stay in the Inland Northwest.

Rahim – his full name and hometown are not revealed – was reunited with his family in late August after spending the summer with a Coeur d’Alene host family.

He met his new baby sister for the first time and surprised his mother and father with his energy and attitude. They had not seen him so carefree and active since Rahim’s left leg was amputated below the knee after he stepped on a land mine three years ago in the Helmand province.

“His father noticed changes right away, and those only began with the physical healing,” said Patsy Wilson, executive director of Solace for the Children, the nonprofit group that arranged for Rahim to travel to North Idaho for a series of pro bono medical treatments.

“He spoke of the new kindness and respect in Rahim,” Wilson continued. “He marveled at all Rahim had learned about himself and the world during his time with Solace, and in the end, emotional, he cried out for Solace to take him back for another visit so he would learn to grow into a fine man.”

Another visit may happen, giving the growing boy an opportunity to receive an updated prosthetic. Robert Miller of Kootenai Prosthetics & Orthotics in Post Falls fitted Rahim with two custom legs – a main and a spare – to take back home this year, but Miller said at the time that the boy would wear them out or outgrow them before long.

While staying with Tony and Jill Ledford and their sons Josh and Tim in Coeur d’Alene, Rahim also had surgeries to repair a badly damaged ear drum, remove bits of shrapnel and provide relief from painful scarring on his right leg. He also has had cavities filled in every tooth and received many vaccinations.

When Rahim’s family went to pick him up in Kabul after his summer away, his parents were shocked to see him playing soccer with other kids in the yard, the boy’s mother said.

“We never thought he would be able to walk by himself, and were expecting to see him in a wheelchair,” she said through an interpreter.

The Spokesman-Review agreed not to identify the family or its village to protect them from possible retaliation by the Taliban.

“Now Rahim is fine,” his mother said. “He is sleeping, playing, walking for hours with no pains. He even sleeps with his new prosthetic leg. He thinks of it as a real leg and he never takes it off, not even while going to bed.”

Her son, who was illiterate before the Solace trip, also is attending school in his village for the first time in his life.

“We had never thought about sending him to school because of his disability,” his mother said. “Now that he can walk, we decided to enroll him.”

Rahim’s parents were inspired by all that he learned while in the United States, including the English he picked up as well as progress he made learning to read and write in Pashto, his native language. His education now includes some English and math classes, and Rahim speaks English with foreigners he sees in his village, enthusiastically starting up conversations with them, his mother said.

Previously, the boy was withdrawn. He spent half of each day in religious studies at a mosque and the rest of his time swimming in the river and playing.

Rahim now shares his stories with other children and talks about how Americans liked him and like Afghans, his mother said.

The boy used to tussle with other kids in the village, but now he’s a role model to them, said Jill Ledford, who spoke with Rahim on the phone in October.

“Rahim has learned to be a peacemaker and is sharing that with his family and community,” Ledford said. “He is also respecting and helping his mom now.”

Rahim was shy for much of his stay with the Ledfords, but before he left he befriended an 8-year-old neighborhood boy named Byron. The boys rode horses together at the Stables in Mica Meadows.

“These boys were inseparable, learning together how to bridge the gap of two completely different cultures,” Jill Ledford said.

The mine blast killed Rahim’s cousin and left him seriously wounded. American soldiers at a nearby checkpoint rushed him to a helicopter, which flew Rahim to a hospital.

After he recovered, he went more than a year without any type of prosthesis. A State Department employee in Afghanistan met the boy and referred him to Solace. Rahim waited another year before he was able to make the trip to Idaho.

“Almost all the time when he walked, slept or went somewhere outside, he complained about his leg and consequent pains,” his mother recalled. “We were afraid that doctors would cut his other leg, too.”

She said she sees Solace as “angels of God” sent to heal her child.

Jill Ledford said her family, too, was touched deeply by Rahim.

“It’s truly incredible what just three months of hosting a Solace child and pouring love into his or her life can accomplish,” Ledford said. “The impact is staggering, both on our family here and in Rahim’s life, who will forever be a part of our family.”

There are five comments on this story »