LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) — Youssif, the 5-year-old Iraqi boy who was savagely burned by masked men, arrived in the United States late Tuesday with his family — the first step toward his lengthy rehabilitation. For a family whose lives were tortured by the random and brutal violence of Iraq, the sheer magnitude of stepping onto American soil was surreal. His parents were rendered speechless. They didn’t need to speak. The joy on their faces was palpable.
They had traveled more than 7,500 miles to get help for their son. It marked the first time the family had ever left their homeland, let alone flown on a plane.
“Oh my God, it’s so green. Am I in heaven?” Youssif’s mother, Zainab, said after arriving in Chicago before the family flew on to Los Angeles where Youssif will be treated. The night before they departed, Youssif didn’t sleep a wink. He woke the family up extra early, shouting, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
They were greeted by members of the Children’s Burn Foundation, the nonprofit organization that paid for the family’s travel and is covering all of Youssif’s medical bills.
Youssif playfully fought with his father over the luggage cart in Los Angeles International Airport. “I want to push it. I want to push it,” he said gleefully.
The family was then whisked away to the two-bedroom, two-bath apartment where they will be staying during Youssif’s treatment. It’s a stark contrast to their humble one-room home in a rundown central Baghdad neighborhood rife with violence.
When Youssif walked into the new home, he glanced at the plush wall-to-wall carpet and ordered everyone to take their shoes off. Don’t get it dirty, he said. His mother opened a door in the master bedroom and marveled at the walk-in closet. “Is this a bedroom? It can’t be a closet,” she said.
Standing on the apartment’s balcony, Youssif’s father turned to Barbara Friedman, executive director of the Children’s Burn Foundation. “You see America on television, but you never imagine or dream that you will ever be here.” He paused, tears in his eyes. “It’s more than paradise.”
On this day, the family was simply ecstatic to have finally made it here. They arrived on September 11 — the date the United States will always remember as a day of unspeakable horror.
But for this family, 9/11 will always mean something much different: Hope and a better future for their son — and a newfound love for America.