Salee Allawe tried out her new prosthetic legs for the first time Wednesday, giggling as she walked and gaining more confidence with every step.
The Iraqi 16-year-old lost her own legs in an airstrike in 2006, according to the group who brought her to Greenville for treatment at Shriners Hospital for Children. She had outgrown her old prosthetics, which were three years old, far too tight and well worn.
The new legs, which are adorned with a blue and yellow butterfly, let her walk without pain for the first time in many months.
“Legs are nice. No hurt,” Salee told Ed Skewes, the prosthetist who crafted the new legs for her. “Thank you, Dr. Ed. Good job!”
The new legs sport tennis shoes in bright yellow — Salee’s favorite color — which Skewes got especially for the girl he’s come to admire over the years of treating her.
“She’s an incredible inspiration,” he said. “Anybody who meets this young lady sees her spirit and that smile. She’s like a magnet drawing people around her. And I think that’s why you’ve seen such interest in our community and around the world.
“People fall in love with her and want to help her.”
Greenville has rallied round Salee since she first arrived as a 9-year-old hoping to get prosthetic legs. Until then, she’d been getting from one place to another on her hands.
On Saturday, she and her father are returning to Iraq, where her future is limited by her disability, the ongoing hostilities and the culture. Her fondest dream is to come back to the U.S. and become a doctor so that she can help others the way she’s been helped here.
And a group of local residents, including Mayor Knox White, an immigration attorney, hopes to make that dream come true.
“The plan is to have Salee back here by late spring of 2015 so that she can settle in and start school in the fall,” said Lisa Hall, a member of the group.
Salee needs to work on her English and has some catching up to do academically as well, she said, adding that private school options are being investigated as a way to expedite her education.
In the meantime, Hall said, the group plans to get Salee a tablet loaded with electronic books that teach reading as well as a language app, which she can use in Iraq when internet access is available.
And Ronald McDonald House, where Salee and her father, Hussein, have stayed during all their trips to Greenville, volunteered to serve as a place where donations can be sent until a permanent fund can be set up.
“We will miss her enthusiasm and resilience,” said Marti Spencer, executive director at the home. “Our dream is that she will have the ability to do all the things with her life that most of us take for granted.”
Salee will need some time to adjust to her new adult legs bcause they are heavier than her old pediatic legs. Shriners also gave her a shorter set of prosthetics for home use that make it easier for her to get around, Skewes said.
“She wanted her shorter prostheses to be tall enough so she could wash dishes,” Skewes said. “Her center of gravity is lower with them, so she can go much faster.”
Back to Iraq
There are higher-tech legs, he said, but there is nowhere in Iraq to get them serviced. The ones she has now are durable and reliable, he said.
But in case they should break or wear out, Shriners also provided extra knees and feet as well as the tools to change them so Salee’s father can switch them out, he said.
After a few trips up and down the corridor in her new legs, Salee needed a rest.
“New legs awesome. Walking good,” she said. “Tired now.”
Skewes said that most people don’t realize how much energy expenditure it takes to walk as an amputee.
A brave girl by anyone’s standards, Salee was close to tears when talking about leaving Greenville.
“Don’t want to go back in Iraq,” she said. “Like two days go back.”
Salee’s father said she has been praying that she could stay here. But he says he’s concerned about the rest of his family in Iraq, adding that two boys in a schoolyard near their home died in a bombing recently.
So Salee smiles and gives warm hugs all around.
“I love Greenville. I love South Carolina. I love Shriners. I love Ronald McDonald House,” she said.
“Thank you everybody.”