Wounded Gaza boy who survived Israeli airstrike undergoes surgery in U.S.

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New York City — At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last month, Elissa Montanti waited patiently for a flight coming in from Cairo carrying 5-year-old Omar Abukwaik. Montanti, founder and director of the Global Medical Relief Fund, had to cut through red tape to get Abukwaik to the U.S. — a frightened boy in desperate need of medical care. 

Abukwaik’s aunt, who accompanied him on his trip, told CBS News that the boy’s parents, brother, sister and grandparents were all killed by an Israeli airstrike on their Gaza home in December. Abukwaik suffered severe injuries, including leg wounds and the amputation of his left arm.

Montanti told CBS News she had reached out to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which in turn referred her to the humanitarian organization Rahma Worldwide, which identified Abukwaik as a boy who needed help.  

He is now staying at a temporary home on Staten Island run by Montanti’s charity. Far from the reality of the Israel-Hamas war, Abukwaik visited the Staten Island Children’s Museum, a momentary escape where he could be a child again.

“These are innocent children that have absolutely no resources, or very, very little,” Montanti said. “And the 60 countries we have helped are all of these children from war-torn and natural disasters.” 

The Global Medical Relief Fund has partnered with Shriners Children’s Philadelphia, where Abukwaik’s injuries were evaluated by Dr. Scott Kozin, chief of staff for the hospital.

“The fact that Omar was able to be brought here is good for Omar, and it’s good for his outlook,” Kozin said. “If he stayed in Gaza or stayed in Egypt, who knows, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”

On Jan. 31, Kozin performed surgery to repair a wound on Abukwaik’s leg. 

“So we want to get rid of this bad scar, and replace with normal skin graft,’ Kozin explained during the procedure.

Doctors also begin the process of fitting Abukwaik for a prosthetic arm. His recovery is expected to take several weeks. After that, he will return to a tent camp in Gaza with his aunt. 

As he grows older, the Global Medical Relief Fund will assist Omar in returning to the U.S. for continued medical treatment.

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