How Elissa met Dalal

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With recent events in Iraq, it is easy to forget the positives that have been going on there. Thus, today I would like to focus on a story about a life taken and a life returned.

When the world’s attention focuses on stories of political violence and conflict — like the escalating violence in Iraq — those stories overshadow the lives and stories of noncombatants. Too often, the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire are only mentioned as numbers. Thus, today I would like to focus on a story about a life taken and a life returned.

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Dalal in 2005, photo used with permission of GMRF

As a combat infantry veteran, one thing that sits on the back of my mind as I think about the times my unit made contact with insurgents is whether or not my actions had unintended consequences. Once a trigger is pulled, a bomb dropped, or a missile is launched all decisions are final. There is no way to stop it, as the chaos of combat takes over. Innocents harmed during combat are a tragedy that lack words to describe or convey the magnitude accurately. Thankfully, there are good people in this world that endeavor to rebuild and give back what was taken so tragically from them. People like Elissa Montanti, a native of Staten Island, New York, and her organization the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF) have aided over 150 children by giving them new prosthetic legs, arms, and psychological help.

Elissa Montanti and GMRF’s story begins with the Bosnian civil war. Elissa, in her late 30’s, reached out to help the child victims of Bosnia’s civil war by offering to collect school supplies and toys. However, she quickly learned there was a much greater need in Bosnia after her meeting with Bosnia’s UN Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey, her mission in life took on a whole new meaning. The ambassador responded to her offer by reading her a letter from a young Bosnian boy who stepped on a landmine and lost both of his arms and a leg.

After the meeting she set about building a unique network of partners to include the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which provided surgery, prosthetics and rehabilitation, Long Island Jewish Hospital, John Hopkins University Hospital, the Long Island Plastic Surgery Group, Winthrop University Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and Ocular Prosthetics, Inc. Through this unique team Elissa had the resources to give Kenan Malkic, the writer of the letter, new arms and a new leg and a life returned. Since then more than 150 children from all over the globe have received aid from GMRF.

However, the story doesn’t stop there, in 2003, while the US invasion of Iraq was underway, the city of Basra was the first stop of the American advance into Iraq from Kuwait. During the attack on Basra a missile struck the home of Dalal who was but 5 years old at the time. The attack stole more than Dalal’s home, it claimed the lives of her younger brother, her grandmother, and one of Dalal’s legs. Dalal’s world was shattered in a matter of seconds.

Dalal’s story first came to the attention of GMRF through Ali Ameer’s family when Dalal’s father inquired as to the ability of GMRF to aid his daughter, Dalal. Ali Ameer was the first Iraqi child to receive aid from GMRF. Elissa, herself, traveled to Iraq to bring Dalal and two other children back to the US to receive aid. However, there were several problems standing in the way of getting Dalal back to the US.

Two major obstacles obstructed Dalal’s journey to the US. The first being the lack of an American Embassy in Iraq, which meant Elissa had to work through the embassy in Kuwait to obtain visas for the Iraqi children and their guardians. The second major obstacle was Dalal and her father’s last name. Their name was fairly common in Iraq and made it difficult for the Department of Homeland Security to sign off on their visas. After the Department of Homeland Security cleared her and her father they made their fateful trip to the US. Dalal through the help of Elissa and her network she was able to get her life back. Since 2005, Dalal has returned every two years to the US to receive new legs.

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After Dalal’s most recent visit to the US, photo used with permission from GMRF