Soccer loving Iraqi boy Mustafa Abed back in Portland for treatment, gets full PTFC experience

PORTLAND, Ore. – He’s been here before. He was five, the first time, getting more treatment for his injuries before returning to Iraq. Ten years later, Mustafa Abed has returned, only this time, he’s been able to combine his treatment with the sport that he loves.

Despite losing his left leg when he was two, Mustafa Abed is an avid soccer fan, playing still thanks to the braces he uses to walk. He was doing just that on Wednesday at the adidas Timbers Training Center, where he kicked the ball around with Zarek Valentin and took shots on Jeff Attinella after being introduced to the full Portland Timbers’ squad.

​Photo by Kayla Knapp

“[My nurse] Geri told me, ‘Hey, they’re going to make you a [custom jersey], and you’re going to meet the team, and you’re going to be watching them practice," Abed said, through an interpreter, about learning he’d be visiting the Timbers. “Geri told me, and I was very excited. I felt good about it.”

The nurse, Geri Berg, is a pediatric social worker who had worked with Abed on his first visit to receive treatment in the U.S. in 2008. Berg is also Timbers annual member and worked with the club's community outreach platform Stand Together to connect the soccer loving Abed with the team.

​Photo by Kayla Knapp

Abed, now 15, and his mother took in Timbers practice on May 9, part of a series of events that will give him the full PTFC experience. He enjoyed a VIP day on May 13, witnessing the Timbers' 1-0 win over the Sounders in the historic 100th edition of the rivalry. Mustafa was on the field during the team warmups and watched the game from the KeyBank Club. He is also due to be back at Providence Park when Thorns FC host the Utah Royals on May 25.

“I feel really honored,” he said, just before the Timbers kicked off against the Sounders.

Abed lost his left leg at the hip when he was two years old after a United States missile strike landed near him in Fallujah in 2004. Three years later, he was brought to Oregon to get the treatment he needed for his internal injuries, eventually going back home with a new, prosthetic left leg. On April 17, Abed and his mother arrived in Oregon for another set of treatments, and are scheduled to stay in the States for three months before returning to Iraq.

“I feel at peace,” Abed’s mother, Nidhal Aswad, said about their time in the United States. “[Being in the U.S. has been] safe and fun. It’s a dream come true. It doesn’t feel like I’m in reality.”

Photo by Kayla Knapp

Wednesday’s practice culminated with Abed in the center circle at the Timbers training field pitch, his story being told to the collected team after their 90-minute session. The playing and technical staff took turns shaking hands and embracing Abed, welcoming him back to Portland while expressing their admiration for how far he’s come.

Abed is back in Oregon thanks to No More Victims, a group with the mission of bringing children wounded in war to the United States for treatment. The group helped arrange Abed’s treatment 10 years ago but lost touch with the family after their return to Iraq. Thanks to a PBS Newshour segment chronicling events in Iraq, though, the group was able to restore contact with Abed and bring him back to Oregon for another round of treatment.

The group Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility have helped raised funds for Abed’s ongoing medical treatment, while the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund paid for his family’s latest trip. Many of the same doctors who treated Abed 10 years ago are volunteering their time during his second stay in Portland.

“We were very happy, and we started cry,” Aswad said, about regain touch with No More Victims. “We had lost contact with them, and they had lost contact with us.”

​Photo by Kayla Knapp

Abed and his mother are set to be in Oregon for three months, staying at a Ronald McDonald House while Abed is treated at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and the Shriners Hospital for Children. While his treatment will be his number one priority during his time in the U.S., he will also have a chance to get closer to the game that he loves.

“I’m very happy because Mustafa is very happy,” Aswad said. “I feel like everybody has cared so much for him. He’s never got this much care for him back in Iraq. When I saw everybody caring for him, I cried.”