Both of Healing the Children AZ's co-directors, Kristin Mathews and Debra Karam, were inspired to become host parents after they read a 2005 Arizona Republic article about what the nonprofit was able to do for a boy named Patrick, who was brought to the United States for major surgery.
Kristin, an RN who had become a stay-at-home mom, said, “I thought my nursing background and my 'free time' would be a great reason to be a host parent.”
Debra, also an RN, quickly became a host mom to one boy from Iraq who required multiple surgeries after a landmine explosion, a relationship that continues to this day. “We absolutely consider Hussein to be a family member,” Debra says.
Kristin has since hosted two children from Honduras, one from Vietnam and another from Ecuador. Since returning to nursing in 2007 she has taken on many roles with HTC: In 2008 she joined the board as a member at large. In 2009 she became vice president. In 2011, she became co-director with Johanna Ricketts, who founded Healing the Children AZ in 2000.
Johanna retired from the director's job in January, remaining active with the group as host family and medical trip coordinator. So Debra, who had already been an event chair and fundraiser, stepped into the co-director slot in order to inspire others to become part of the Healing the Children Arizona team.
“Being a host parent is one of my proudest achievements, and for my husband as well,” Debra said.
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Hussein was only 8 when he almost lost his life to a landmine explosion in his native Iraq. Today he is 16 and nearing the end of his second stay with Debra and Ray Karam in Peoria, Ariz., since 2005, as his host family and medical providers help him piece his life back together.
Hussein lost his right eye and left forearm in the mine explosion. During his first stay in 2006, a corneal transplant and lensectomy removed foreign bodies from and greatly improved vision in his left eye. Today, Hussein can navigate around his neighborhood on a bike and can read with the help of a magnifier, though he is still legally blind.
“Hussein can accomplish anything any other child can do, and he has a can-do attitude about not letting his disability get in the way of life,” said Debra, Hussein’s host mom.
Hussein returned to Arizona in October 2010, and has had four successful procedures since March 2011 at Shriners Hospital in Los Angeles. There, tissue expanders were used to stretch his skin, creating new, unburned skin to which has been used to improve the appearance of his forehead and face. He will have one more surgery, a hair transplant to recreate his missing right eyebrow, before his expected return home to his mother, father, four brothers and two sisters in summer 2012
“His family has not seen pictures of him at all, so they will be in for a shock after his being in the US for what will be roughly 20 months,” Debra said.
Healing the Children Arizona donors pay for Hussein’s out-of-pocket medical costs, with support from El Zaribah Shriners' Phoenix chapter for travel expenses and from his host family for living expenses. Many healthcare providers have also given of their time to help Hussein.
Your continued support for Healing the Children Arizona gives international youths like Hussein access to life-saving and life-enhancing medical treatment which wouldn't be an option for them otherwise.
Hussein was recognized by his school district for accelerated language learning.
Hussein has excelled at English as a Second Language at Centennial High School in Peoria, and was recognized in January as one of nine “ELL Success Stories” by state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal at a national conference held in the Phoenix area.