They never saw it coming. Only heard the thunder in the distance. But then it wasn’t thunder. Then the sound was on top of them and the stairway erupted into an inferno.
And when he awoke at his home in Gaza, a 7-year old Abdallah Alathamna’s life had been ripped from him in the cruelest of ways.
Sixteen members of his family had been killed by an Israeli bomb which the military later said was an accident.
“I feel very bad because I lost my mother and two sisters, and my family,” Abdallah, now 14, said. “And I feel very, very sad for them.”
That was 2006. And though Abdallah was alive, the lower part of his right leg had been blown away. He was scarred inside and out.
A year later the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund arranged for Abdallah to come to California's Bay Area where an Oakland prosthetic specialist fit him with an artificial leg.
“Coming from that part of the world after this incident happened, not knowing what to expect,” said Adli Rasheed, Abdallah’s host in San Ramon, “it was pretty tense for him.”
Abdallah already knew the first thing he would do with his new leg. Before he kicked a ball, before he ran, before he climbed stairs. The very day he got his new leg, he rode a bike.
“His late mother, before she passed away, she would ask him to buy milk every day and he would ride the bike to do that,” said Rasheed. “He said that was one of his goals to ride the bike again because that made his mother very happy.”
This week, Abdallah returned to the Bay Area from his home in Gaza after seven years. Rasheed noticed he now used gel in his hair, spoke haltingly good English and was taller. Abdallah had grown. And now his prosthetic leg didn’t fit anymore.
“I feel bigger and it is smaller and I go walk like this,” Abdallah said flapping his arms.
The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund once again arranged for him to come to the Bay Area where Oakland prosthetic specialist Tony LaFrance volunteered to create a new artificial limb.
“Most of the time, by the time they grow out of them,” said LaFrance, “which would maybe would be three or four years, they’re shot and kaput.”
Rasheed’s family once again took in Abdallah, who had grown close to Rasheed’s five children. He said they were his second family.
On Wednesday afternoon, Abdallah sat in LaFrance’s office as the specialist wrapped plaster strips around a mold to build the prosthetic leg. Abdallah sat quietly watching the work, his eyes darting around the room, eventually settling on Rasheed.
LaFrance told him to come back in a week to try out the new limb. He would have to walk on a ramp among other things to make sure it fit. The final fabrication would take another week.
After that, Abdallah would return to Gaza – back to his father who he phones every day. Abdallah said he someday wants to be a doctor. Rasheed, who is also from Gaza, said it’s difficult for people with disabilities to find work there.
For now, Abdallah said he wanted to get back to his favorite things; soccer, swimming and basketball – the normal, the missile couldn’t take.