That could have been the end of the encounter, a brief snapshot of the sadness of war, but Staff Sgt. Julie Stoner couldn’t get the image of that mother and family out of her thoughts. She knew the family needed help and she was determined to do something.
“That didn’t sit well because I felt like I was doing absolutely nothing for them,” said Stoner, a nurse with the 86th Combat Support Hospital. “I had to tell her we didn’t have the medicine to make the boy’s legs work.”
Although she had to turn the family away, she knew there had to be a way to help. Stoner, who also had a son who was seriously injured in an accident, knew how this mother felt and was determined to do something.
The family, which lives nearby FOB Marez, was in the midst of a tragedy. Their 16-month-old son Mohammed was paralyzed after a bullet struck his upper body and exited through his leg. They do not know how it happened, only that the mother, Nadia, was holding her son by the front door of their home Nov. 4, when the stray bullet changed their lives.
Since then, multiple trips to hospitals in the city and surrounding areas turned up fruitless. Desperate for help, they showed up at the pedestrian gate on the Logistical Support Area Diamondback side of the base Feb. 20 to see if the Coalition Forces could help. The family had been told the Americans had medicine that could help her son walk again.
While the Coalition Forces could not provide the follow-on care needed by the family, Stoner, from Bowling Green, Ohio, and current resident of Clarksville, Tenn., remembered seeing a story on the news about an organization that donates wheelchairs to injured Iraqi children. She decided to send an e-mail. By the next morning, not only did she get a response from the organization, but she was promised a wheelchair to help this family.
Stoner, determined to see this through, began the next chapter in this story and began her search to find this family.
“All I had was the father’s full name and the boy’s full name,” she said. Finding the family would be a challenge. She said she went back to the pedestrian gate and asked all the interpreters if they knew the family or where they lived. She also tried to locate them through military channels. Stoner’s motherly determination, like Nadia’s, was not going to let her give up hope. And then, only a few days later, the call came in.
Stoner said the mother had been to a claims office and, refusing to stop looking for help, showed back up at the gate.
“I termed it, a mother’s persistence to take care of her child,” Stoner said.
After arriving at the gate to see the family, Stoner was upset to hear that the family had left only a few minutes before her arrival. She convinced the gate personnel to run after the family. Again, persistence won out and the guard returned with the family.
Stoner told the mother she felt bad that she couldn’t do anything medically for her son, but that she was able to get a wheelchair if they wanted it.
“She said yes and she kept saying ‘I thank God for you. I kept praying to God that something would happen and I knew you were a mother,’” Stoner said.
Sergeant Marcelo Balboa, a coworker and friend of Stoner who went with her to the gate, said he knew this story would end up with a happy ending.
“Sometimes you know something’s got to be done,” Balboa said. “Most of us just turn a blind eye. It’s people like Sergeant Stoner who make that small difference in these people’s eyes.”
About a week later, March 1, these two women again stood facing each other. At this meeting however, tears were replaced with smiles and the meeting was joyous – a happy moment that arose out of tragedy.
Mohammed slept in the arms of his sister and his father stood nearby. All knew the wheelchair was more than just assistance for an injured child, it was a sign of hope for one woman and her son – a fitting ending to this chance encounter between an American mother and Soldier and an Iraqi mother.
While the wheelchair won’t help the boy walk again, Stoner knows it will improve their quality of life, and knowing they have hope and are moving forward makes her efforts worthwhile.
“It’s knowing that you can do something. You just have to find the way. There’s always something that you can do,” Stoner said.
For Nadia and her family, the smiles were a sign of their gratitude to Stoner and the others who showed compassion and caring for them in their time of need.
“We don’t know how to express out feelings,” Nadia said through an interpreter after receiving the wheelchair. “We are so thankful. The Americans are so caring. We found out that the Americans are a lot more caring.”
Staff Sgt. Julie Stoner, a nurse with the 86th Combat Support Hospital at Forward Operating Base Marez, Iraq, puts Mohammed, 16 months old, in his new wheelchair while his mother, Nadia (center), sister, Demuh, 14 (center left), and others look on. Stoner, from Bowling Green, Ohio and current resident of Clarksville, Tenn., found a wheelchair for the boy who was paralyzed after being struck by a stray bullet in November.
Staff Sgt. Julie Stoner, a nurse with the 86th Combat Support Hospital at Forward Operating Base Marez, Iraq, puts Mohammed, 16 months old, in his new wheelchair while his mother, Nadia (center), sister, Demuh, 14, watch. Stoner, from Bowling Green, Ohio and current resident of Clarksville, Tenn., found a wheelchair for the boy who was paralyzed.