The bomb-scarred life of a 5-year-old Iraqi refugee took a hopeful turn Wednesday in a Mineola courtroom, when the uncle who nursed him back to life and brought him to America adopted him.
The uncle, Hasan Khazaal, had been a high school student in Dujail, Iraq, when he rescued his nephew following a 2008 car bombing.
Nassau County Surrogate's Court Judge Edward W. McCarty III, who served during the invasion of Kuwait during the 1991-1992 Gulf War, told an elated Khazaal that he was now legally the father of his nephew, Zeedabdeen Hadi.
"Today from the horrors of the Iraq War we now toast the joy of life," the judge said. "I now declare you 'Dad' "
"I didn't want him to grow up thinking that no one would be there to support him," Khazaal, 22, said after the proceeding. "I swore I would take him to find a better life in this country. . . . Every day in Iraq we would wake up from bombs."
Khazaal rushed to the aid of his nephew after the 2008 bombing, performing CPR to revive the then-11-month-old, and doggedly fought to persuade others not to let him die.
Zeedabdeen had been gravely injured when the blast downed a power line outside his home, leaving him with life-threatening electrical burns to his face and skull.
With his face badly charred by the power lines, doctors in Iraq had given up the child for dead, Khazaal said in interviews with Newsday last year. But he persuaded doctors at an American military base to help save the boy's life.
The two Iraqis were brought to the United States in 2011 by a New York charity that helped the child get restorative surgery. The burns had fused the child's mouth nearly shut, and burned a gap in the bones of his skull.
Khazaal said Zeedabdeen's parents allowed him to adopt their son so he could remain in America for more care. The child already has had dozens of surgeries, Khazaal said. Another is scheduled in March.
The two, who were granted refugee status last September, are living in Floral Park. Khazaal works at an auto body shop. Zeedabdeen is enrolled in kindergarten.
Rachel Paras, a Long Beach lawyer who handled the adoption, said theirs was among the most extraordinary in her seven years.
"All adoptions are special in their own way because you get to make legal what is already in people's hearts," Paras said. "But this one is different because of all the people -- the soldiers who helped save his life, the volunteers who helped get them here, the doctors who performed so many surgeries -- who eventually led him to me."
McCarty published a brief program for the courtroom proceedings he titled "An Adoption: The Joy of Life from the Horrors of War."