PORTLAND — More than a dozen well-wishers greeted Noora Afif Abdulhameed at the Portland International Jetport on Monday when she arrived back in Maine for more surgery to repair the damage done to her head by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq.

This is Noora’s third trip to Maine for medical treatment since 2008.

During this stay, which is expected to last about nine weeks, Dr. John Attwood, a Portland plastic surgeon who has donated his services, will cover the remaining bald spot on the back of Noora’s head with her own scalp.

The procedure, which involves placing balloons under Noora’s scalp to stretch the skin, will begin Wednesday at Maine Medical Center and take about six to eight weeks to complete.

The final step in Noora’s healing will be two trips to New York over the next two summers for hair transplants.

Noora is now 10 years old and in the third grade. She was accompanied Monday afternoon, as always, by her father. Afif Abdulhameeed Otaiwi said he and Noora had a good trip from Iraq, “but it’s very long. I left my home Saturday morning.”

The pair immediately began greeting and hugging their Maine friends, who came bearing gifts – including a Barbie, one of Noora’s favorite toys – and a sign that said “Welcome Home Noora.”

Otaiwi said he was happy to see everyone, especially Susi Eggenberger and Doug Rogers, the Arundel couple who initially brought them here through the nonprofit group No More Victims. The two families have grown extremely close.

“I was kind of a mess when they left the last time,” Rogers said. “It’s awful nice to have them back again.”

Noora has been excited about seeing her American friends, Otaiwi said, “but she worry about the surgery.”

Otaiwi, who is a history teacher, said his family in Iraq is doing well, although his wife, Afrah, and four other children cried when it was time for him and Noora to leave again.

Otaiwi said they almost had a little stowaway on their trip – Noora’s 3-year-old sister Somaya, who was born in Iraq during Noora’s first visit to Maine.

“My little girl, she bring out her bag and she pack all her clothes,” Otaiwi said, laughing. “She want to come with us. I told her, next time maybe the government agree.”

Noora and her family were returning from a family celebration in their hometown of Heet on Oct. 23, 2006, when an American sniper’s bullet hit Noora, shattering her skull and putting her into a coma.

Iraqi doctors saved Noora’s life, but couldn’t repair her skull enough to put her out of danger. Other children teased Noora about her appearance.

During her previous visits to Maine, Noora’s skull was repaired with prosthetic material and she began undergoing cosmetic procedures to restore the look of her scalp and hair.

Along the way, she captured the hearts of Mainers who got to know her.

Among those meeting Noora and her father at the airport were Mike and Meghan Cantlin of Falmouth. Meghan, now 11, greeted Noora at the airport when she first arrived in July 2008, and they became fast friends.

The two girls have picked pumpkins and built snowmen together, and kept in touch after Noora went home through video conferencing and email.

During Noora’s visit last year, Mike Cantlin said, they took Noora and her father snowmobiling, and they hope to do that again this time around.

Mya Bekmiyev, 7, hugged Noora’s father tightly as he gently kissed the top of her head. Mya’s mother, Jennifer Thomas of Livermore Falls, said Mya grew close with Noora and her father at the Ronald McDonald House, when Thomas’ family was staying there after the premature birth of a grandchild.

Also at the airport were a few students from Falmouth High School’s Key Club, who will be doing art projects with Noora at the Ronald McDonald House, just as they did during her last two visits.

“A lot of the kids have just gotten so fond of her,” said Holly MacEwan, whose daughter, Louisa, has been friends with Noora since her first stay in Maine.

After the airport greetings were over, Eggenberger and Rogers planned to take Noora to get some pizza.

Her favorite topping? Olives. “She’s been dreaming about it,” Eggenberger said.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]