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International care has boy on two legs again

Rahim gives a thumbs-up after receiving a prosthetic leg at Kootenai Prosthetics & Orthotics. (Kathy Plonka)
Rahim gives a thumbs-up after receiving a prosthetic leg at Kootenai Prosthetics & Orthotics. (Kathy Plonka)

Rahim promptly stood on his new leg Wednesday, then strode confidently into the next room and up a ramp, awaiting final adjustments.

More than two years after a land mine tore into his left leg, requiring amputation below the knee, the 11-year-old boy from southwest Afghanistan has a custom-made prosthesis to sustain the vigor of a typical adolescent.

Robert Miller of Kootenai Prosthetics & Orthotics in Post Falls asked Rahim how it felt.

“Good,” the boy replied, his grin amplifying the answer.

It was one in a series of pro bono medical treatments he’s receiving here this summer through Solace for the Children, a nonprofit group that brings Afghan children to the U.S. for medical, dental and optical care.

Rahim, who lives in war-ravaged Helmand province and whose family’s name is being kept secret to protect them, is one of about 150 children who have made the journey. Many more await their chance to benefit from Western medicine and charity, said Patsy Wilson, the organization’s executive director.

“The need is incredible,” Wilson said, citing a UNICEF estimate of one doctor for every 50,000 Afghans in that country.

The program also aims to promote hope and peace between Americans and the people of Afghanistan, who are caught in the crossfire of the war on terrorism and longstanding tribal conflicts.

Wednesday was a busy day for Rahim, who also received five vaccinations that morning at the Panhandle Health District. Last Friday he 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.

Through it all he has been an agreeable patient. “It’s shocking to me how tough Rahim is,” said Jill Ledford, who is hosting the boy along with her husband, Tony.

When the Coeur d’Alene couple heard about Solace, they volunteered to house a child and then began recruiting medical professionals to donate time and expertise.

It wasn’t difficult to get the team assembled. “There’s a real strong spirit of wanting to help people here,” Miller said. “We’re just trying to help him get the best care he can – to walk and run and be a kid.”

When Rahim arrived at their Coeur d’Alene home seven weeks ago, the Ledfords expected a quiet boy of limited abilities. He surprised them. The first night he played soccer, running on a crude prosthesis that had served him over the past year. The next day, he was riding bicycles and scooters.

“He’s full of energy, full of life, and he’s super, super smart,” she said.

He also was illiterate. In his village he spends half of each day in religious studies at a mosque and the rest of his time swimming in the river and playing.

In his short time in North Idaho, Rahim has begun learning to read and write in Pashto, his native language, as well as in English. An interpreter from Afghanistan made the trip with Rahim and accompanies him to all appointments, but the boy also speaks a little English now.

“We can carry on a pretty good conversation with him,” Jill Ledford said.

In between visits to clinics and Kootenai Medical Center, Rahim has gone fishing and tubing on Priest Lake, named chicken pizza as his favorite American dish, and discovered that shorts make a great summer fashion choice.

Rahim and an older cousin were walking near their village about 2 1/2 years ago when they stepped on a land mine. His cousin was killed, and Rahim was terribly 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.

He has touched those donating their time to help him.

“He’s a cool young man. He has a great smile, great demeanor,” said Dr. Duane Craddock of Coeur d’Alene Pediatrics.

At first glance one can’t know what the boy has endured, said Dr. Patrick Mullen, a reconstructive surgeon who operated on Rahim.

“He runs and plays just like any child that age,” Mullen said. “He is remarkably adaptable.”

Rahim’s adjustment to his new prosthetic legs – Miller plans to make him a spare – and his other rehabilitation will determine when he returns to his family this fall. Once there, he won’t have access to much medical care.

“There’s no help for them there,” said Wilson, the Solace director. “If he has a problem when he goes back, he’s on his own.”