Iraqi teen returns for new prosthetics

Salee Allawe, the girl from Iraq who captured the hearts of the Upstate on her visits to Shriners Hospital for Children over the past few years, is back in Greenville for new prosthetic legs. 

Now 16, she's quite grown up since her last visit in 2011. "It was wonderful to see her," said Ed Skewes, the prosthetist who fashioned Salee's first prosthetic legs back in 2007. "She's a beautiful young lady." 

But all that growth means the legs she got the last time she was here no longer fit properly, he said. So they cause discomfort and skin irritation. 

"Because she's grown up and out of the sockets, the forces on the skin are not in the right place and she can't walk as far or as long as she used to," Skewes said. 

"It's like trying to wear a pair of shoes that are too tight. And if you go walking for long distances, you get blisters," he added. "So you either wear the shoes for a shorter period of time or not at all." 

Nonetheless, he said, it's remarkable that she got three years of use out of them. 

Shriners spokeswoman Melissa Bayles said everyone at the hospital was thrilled to see Salee again and honored that she and her father traveled halfway across the world for a fourth time to be treated here. 

Salee lost both legs in a 2006 missile strike, according to the group that brought her to Greenville for treatment at Shriners, where children receive orthopedic care regardless of ability to pay. 

On her first trip, she underwent surgery before she could get her prosthetic legs. But it wasn't long before she was out and about Greenville, visiting Falls Park, the Children's Museum and other sights, impressing the locals with her resilience and grit. 

Her story even moved Mayor Knox White to present her with the key to the city. Since Salee and her father, Hussein, arrived last week, Skewes took a mold of her residual limbs for her new prosthetics. 

He will make her one short set that will allow her to move around at home more easily and a pair with articulating knees and feet that put her at the appropriate height. "We will have her walking in her temporary prosthetics in a couple of weeks," he said. 

Because of where she lives, Salee is provided more conventional prosthetics since repairing high-tech devices isn't possible in Iraq, he said. "That would be a disservice to her, because if they break down, they can't be fixed," he said. 

"It's better to stay with something more conventional so it can be easily repaired if something goes wrong." Shriners also provides the family with extra components, Skewes said, so they can change them if necessary.  
"The more we can teach them, since they live so far away, the better they'll do," he said. Now that Salee's approaching skeletal maturity, he said, there won't be as drastic a change in her growth. So he expects her new legs will last three to five years. 

Dr. David Westberry, the orthopedic surgeon who operated on Salee when she first arrived years ago, checked her over and said her residual limbs are stable and functional. He gave her the thumbs up to go ahead and get new legs. 

"It looks like she is doing extremely well," he said. "She is maturing into a very bright young lady." While her English has improved a bit since her last visit, there is still a communication barrier, Skewes said. 

But some things don't need language, he said. "She said 'Mr. Ed. I miss you,' " he said. "You can look in people's eyes and smile and sense emotion and happiness."

by Liv Osby

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