At home in Afghanistan, Salim lives with his parents, six brothers and several aunts and uncles and cousins, 21 in all.
Here in the United States, the 14-year-old boy also has a home with Sandy Tabor-Gray and Jim Gray of Mooresville.
The Gray family has been hosting Salim (pronounced Saleem) since June 27, while he gets free medical treatment through Solace for the Children, an international charity founded in 1997 by another Mooresville couple.
Since arriving in Charlotte, Salim has undergone an operation to repair skin and bone in the six-inch nub that extends from his left shoulder. It is all that remains of his left arm that was damaged in 2013 in an accident in his hometown of Kabul. Salim was electrocuted when he touched a live wire while trying to untangle his kite.
He was treated by doctors in Afghanistan and Pakistan who operated several times to remove parts of his damaged arm. First they took his hand, then up to his elbow, then above his elbow.
In 2014, he was chosen by Solace for the Children to come to Charlotte, where he was fitted with a prosthetic arm at the Hanger Clinic. This year, Salim returned to Charlotte with another group of Afghan children because his prosthetic arm wasn’t fitting properly.
Solace for the Children was founded in 1997 to provide medical, dental and optical treatment for children in war-torn countries.
The reason became clear when he took off his shirt in front of Michael Jenks, area clinic manager of Hanger Clinic. The bone at the top of Salim’s left arm had continued to grow and was nearly poking through his skin, making it painful and difficult to wear the prosthesis. Scar tissue had also formed, almost fusing the skin of his arm with the side of his torso, leaving him without an armpit and with limited range of motion.
Jenks saw right away that Salim needed more than an adjustment. He needed more surgery. So he contacted his friend Dr. Glenn Gaston, an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoCarolina, who volunteered to operate. Gaston also brought in Dr. Ryan Garcia, an orthopedic and plastic surgeon.
In late August at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, the surgeons removed some of the bone in Salim’s arm and separated the skin on his arm from the skin on his torso. They also took some skin from Salim’s back to place over his nub, making it better-looking and better-functioning.
A couple weeks ago,, Salim and his host mother, Tabor-Gray, went back to see the doctors. They removed his stitches and made sure the incisions were healing properly.
“Hey, buddy. How ya doing?” Gaston asked when he walked into the exam room.
Salim, who speaks a variety of Persian called Dari, but also understands and speaks some English, smiled shyly.
Through an interpreter, Salim said he was feeling no pain. And he politely complied when Gaston asked him to move his arm forward, back, up and down.
“That’s awesome,” said Jenks, who took measurements for a new prosthesis. Over the nub of Salim’s left arm, Jenks slipped a clear plastic mold and began marking with a red Sharpie.
“He’s been a fantastic kid,” Gaston said.
Turning to Salim’s host mother, the surgeon added: “We’ll take care of any kids you’ve got.”
Charity promotes peace
Solace for the Children is a nonprofit group launched in 1997 by Dick and Patsy Wilson of Mooresville. Their goal was to provide medical, dental and optical treatment for children in war-torn countries. The initial focus was on Belarus, but since 2007, the organization has been working in Afghanistan.
We want to show these children what peace looks like.
Sandy Tabor-Gray, volunteer with Solace for the Children
Each summer, a group of children travels to the United States – at a cost of $6,000 to $8,000 per child – for six weeks. Some, like Salim, stay longer if their medical problems take more time to resolve.
Solace for the Children operates solely on donations and volunteers. While still headquartered in Mooresville, the group now has a branch in Jacksonville and has host families in Los Angeles, Boston, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
Tabor-Gray, 52, began volunteering for Solace for the Children in 2001 after learning about it from some families at her church. She and her husband have two grown children and are raising 5-year-old twins, children of a son who died in 2013.
“I’m a Christian,” Tabor-Gray said. “I believe I’m called to do God’s will, to love my neighbor. My neighbor can be next door, or my neighbor can be in another country.”
When the children arrive in the United States, she said, “We don’t preach. We just show them God’s love. A nice hug and a warm smile. It goes a long way.”
Tabor-Gray and her husband have hosted 10 children, including Salim, and she has traveled to Afghanistan twice. She said Solace for the Children helps to promote peace as well as to save the lives of children, many of whom come from warring tribes.
“We want to show these children what peace looks like,” she said. “We teach them, ‘You are brothers and sisters of one country.’ We send them home as friends.”
Learning to write again
Salim will be in Charlotte for several more weeks before returning to his family in Afghanistan.
He’s working with K2 Sports Therapy in Mooresville to improve the strength in his upper arm and shoulder so he can handle the weight of his prosthesis.
He’s also getting occupational therapy at the Hanger Clinic, working with Jenks and Stephen Shope, a double-arm amputee and patient care coordinator. He was left-handed before his accident, and at a recent visit to Hanger, he learned to write his name with his prosthetic hand.
Asked how he feels about his host mother, Salim smiled and spoke in Dari.
“She’s really nice,” he said through a translator. “I’m thankful that she loves me like her own son.”
Solace for the Children
Details: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.solaceforthechildren.org; Solace for the Children LKN, PO Box 4442, Mooresville, NC 28117.