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article imageTexas man helps disabled Iraqi children

By Bob Ewing     Aug 1, 2009 in World
Brad Blauser, a Dallas, Texas, native now living in Baghdad, distributes pediatric wheelchairs to disabled Iraqi children.
Blauser arrived in Iraq as a civilian contractor in 2004, however, in 2008 he quit so he could work full time making certain the children who needed them got a wheelchair.
"There's no paycheck. It's not really safe here. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.
UNICEF has estimated one in seven Iraqi children ages 2 to 14 has a disability. Spina bifida, palsy and polio leave them unable to walk.
Access to health care is limited and some parents carry their children every day.
"A number of families don't know what's wrong with their kid. There's not a doctor available for help [and] there's no pediatric wheelchair source in this country," Blauser said.
It was 2005 when Maj. David Brown, a battalion surgeon, first made Blauser aware of the daily reality of many Iraqi children. Brown shared accounts of helpless children pulling themselves along the ground, or living motionless in back rooms, because they were now too big to be moved long distances.
"So I asked him, 'What do you need?' " Blauser recalled.
"And he surprised me by his answer: 'I need children's wheelchairs.' "
Blauser began making contacts with friends and family in the United States and within 30 days, 31 pediatric and small adult wheelchairs arrived in Mosul for distribution to children in need.
From this experience the organization, Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids came into being.
"The experience for me in the first distribution was awesome," said Blauser.
"To see the smile come across their face and [to] look over at the mothers and fathers -- they've definitely been changed."
Now three years old, Ali Khaled Ibrahim was left paralyzed by a mysterious fever that left him partially paralyzed when he was only eight months old. Ali is unable to speak and experiences increasingly frequent and violent convulsions.
"Ali's handicap affected the family a lot," said his father.
Ali's mother was unable to carry out her daily chores and her "psychological state worsened."
"When I heard the news of the distribution of these advanced wheelchairs, I was very happy deep down," she said.
"I thought maybe that will ease my work as a mother in the way I deal with my son."
Ali is one of hundreds of disabled Iraqi children who have benefited from Blauser's efforts. Since 2005, Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids has distributed nearly 650 pediatric wheelchairs.
Blauser partnered with Reach Out and Care Wheels, a nonprofit pediatric wheelchair organization in Montana which provides wheelchairs designed for rough terrains in developing nations, making the devices "perfect for this environment," said Blauser.
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids purchases the chairs from ROC Wheels for about $200 apiece, and USAID donates shipping. Members of the the U.S. and Iraqi armies, Iraqi police and border patrol distribute the wheelchairs.
The group helps adjust the children into their wheelchairs, which fit their bodies as they grow.
Blauser provides part-time security consulting in exchange for room and board. He had initially planned to to stay for one year but is now determined to get wheelchairs to every Iraqi child who wants one.
"By providing what they need, I'm hoping to start a movement to change the way people think about disabled children," said Blauser. "They are not a curse, they are a blessing and they deserve to have their needs met."
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