On Oct. 10, 2003, as he walked home from school, a 9-year-old Iraqi boy named Saleh Khalaf picked up something on the roadside that looked to him like a toy ball. Seconds later it exploded — ripping open his abdomen, tearing off his hands, blowing out his left eye, and mortally wounding his older brother.
Days afterward, Saleh’s father, Raheem, persuaded doctors at a U.S. Air Force base to perform emergency surgery to keep his son alive. It marked the beginning of an international mercy mission to save the boy whose indomitable spirit earned him the nickname Lion Heart.
The mission would take Saleh and Raheem to Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California for treatment. After many months and dozens of surgeries, Saleh's condition began to improve but his heart was still heavy. He prayed that he would one day be reunited with his mother, Hadia and his younger siblings.
Raheem and Saleh were granted asylum, and soon afterward their family received permission to join them in the U.S. In December 2004, Hadia and the children left Iraq and made the arduous journey to Oakland and to a new life.
Throughout the ordeal Saleh's father, Raheem, stayed at the boy's side, ready with a comforting touch.