Although separated by an ocean, the lives of both an Iraqi and an American family are forever intertwined. It began with Ali, an 11 year-old Iraqi boy born with two holes in his heart, and his relationship with an American soldier.
While stationed in Iraq, U.S. Army Reservist Captain Brian Freeman was on a mission to help Ali and his father obtain visas into the United States. Ali desperately needed heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart, life-saving surgery he could not get in Iraq. Through the compassion and perseverance of Captain Freeman, Ali and his father were issued visas to the U.S. One day after Ali and his father received their visas, Jan. 20, Captain Freeman was killed in Iraq.
Ali underwent heart surgery at Schneider Children's Hospital, made possible by sponsorships from the Gift of Life, Inc., a national organization based in Manhasset, chaired by Robert Donno of Manhasset; and Father and Sons Group, a prayer group from Manhasset, led by Jim and Chris McCann of 1-800 Flowers.
Ali was released last week from Schneider Children's Hospital after successful heart surgery. While he is quietly recuperating, he has been getting to know Captain Freeman's wife, Charlotte, her two young children, Ingrid and Gunnar, and Charlotte's mother-in-law, Kathleen Snyder. The family flew in from southern California to be close to Ali and his father, Abdul, to continue the work that Captain Freeman started.
Both families have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, on the campus of Schneider Children's Hospital. "It's an incredible place that has enabled me to connect with Abu Ali and Ali," said Freeman. Since opening in 1986 the Ronald McDonald House has served more than 10,000 families from the United States and more than 80 countries around the world.
Through tears of sadness and of joy, Freeman pointed out that although her heart is breaking, it is also shining. "My husband was a very caring, funny, determined and compassionate man with a great sense of humor. I hope he will be remembered as a hero, as an inspiration and as an example - he truly made an impact in people's lives. Despite the language differences, my children love Abu Ali and Ali."
According to Abdul, whose last name is being withheld at his request, Brian Freeman was a very kind and loving man that will never be forgotten. "He and his family will always be a part of me," said Abdul, with the aid of a translator. "Language is no barrier in this situation. Even though I am sad, I am at peace knowing what Brian has done for us. He will always be in my heart."