Quest to Heal Iraqi Boy Became a Final Mission
Thursday, February 15, 2007
HILLA, Iraq -- Hours before getting killed the way he feared most, Capt. Brian S. Freeman looked up and smiled when Abu Ali dropped by his office.
After nearly six months of overcoming financial and bureaucratic hurdles in a war zone, Freeman told the Iraqi man, there were promising signs that a pair of U.S. visas -- the last big step in getting Abu Ali's 11-year-old son to the United States for lifesaving heart surgery -- would be issued soon.
The Iraqi was speechless. He asked an interpreter to express his gratitude to the tall American soldier who had made saving the child's life an unofficial mission. Then he pulled out his camera, swung his arm around Freeman's broad shoulders and posed for three photographs.
Hours later, shortly before sunset Jan. 20, armed men in GMC trucks stormed into the government building in Karbala, in southern Iraq. They killed an American soldier, handcuffed Freeman and three other U.S. soldiers, hauled them into the vehicles and drove off. Freeman and the other abducted soldiers were later slain by the attackers.
Freeman, 31, a West Point graduate and Army Reservist, left his young wife and two toddlers in Temecula, Calif., last spring to deploy to Iraq.
He was unenthusiastic about the war, but once his uniform was on, friends said, Freeman embarked on his mission with the optimism and stamina that defined him.
"Most of us here understand the politics of war," said Capt. Matthew Lawton, one of Freeman's close friends in Iraq. "Brian didn't really agree with the war, I think. But he understood, going to West Point, going to the military -- that was the right thing to do."
The local police chief pulled Freeman aside one day in late April and told him about the ailing boy.
The second of five children, Ali Abdulameer was born with a debilitating heart condition that gradually restricted his blood flow. Barring surgery, his father said, the boy's chances of making it to adulthood were slim. Physicians in Karbala and Baghdad offered bleak prognoses.
"Baghdad doctors always gave me promises, but nothing ever happened," Abu Ali said.
After hearing about the case, Freeman got online and typed the words "Iraqi kids heart surgery" into the Google search query. The name of a fellow civil affairs soldier he didn't know popped up. He sent her a note asking for help.
Staff Sgt. Marikay Satryano, an Army Reservist from Tarrytown, N.Y., had become something of an expert in cutting through red tape to get Iraqi children abroad for critical medical care. Stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, Satryano wrote back outlining how to get the process started.