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A Brave Face: Two Cultures, Two Families, and the Iraqi Girl Who Bound Them Together

A Brave Face: Two Cultures, Two Families, and the Iraqi Girl Who Bound Them Together


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The inspirational story of an American woman who moved mountains to secure medical treatments—and eventually a home—for a young Iraqi girl severely burned in a roadside terror attack. This is a story of the astonishing power of self-sacrificial love.

On a typical Sunday morning in 2006, Barbara Marlowe saw a photo that changed her life: a photo of four-year-old Teeba Furat Fadhil, whose face, head, and hands had been severely burned during a roadside bombing in the Diyala Province of Iraq. Teeba’s eyes captivated Barbara, and she yearned to help this child who had already endured more pain and suffering than anyone should bear.

Because surgeons were fleeing the war-torn country, Teeba would be unable to receive much-needed treatments if she stayed in Iraq. With powerful faith and determination, Barbara overcame obstacle after obstacle to bring Teeba from Iraq to the United States for medical treatments.

A Brave Face explores the connection forged between Barbara and Teeba’s Iraqi mother Dunia over the past decade—a deep bond between two mothers that has flourished despite the distance, the strife of war, and the horrors of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. With chapters written by Teeba, now a young woman, and Dunia, the three women recount the story of courage and sacrifice that bound them together.

A Brave Face contains the messages that:

  • Tremendous trust can cross borders and war zones
  • Tragedies can turn into miracles
  • Love can be found in the most unexpected of places

In the end, this is a story of hope. A story of building bridges. A story of the always astonishing power of self-sacrificial love.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785221456
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 374,431
Product dimensions: 1.00(w) x 1.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Barbara Marlowe is the Marketing and Public Relations Director for the law firm of Dworken & Bernstein Co., L.P.A., in northeast Ohio. She has served on several boards for nonprofits and is currently a member of the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Leadership Council and Dogs Unlimited Rescue; she is also president of the Iraqi Children’s Foundation. Until Teeba’s arrival, Barbara was an avid golfer and loved to play in tournaments. She hopes to return to her favorite sport one day very soon. Barbara and her husband, Tim, live in an eastern suburb of Cleveland along with Teeba and their dog Becca.

Teeba Furat Marlowe is a sophomore in high school at Gilmour Academy. She is dedicated to her studies and focused on her future as a pediatric anesthesiologist. She hopes to one day volunteer with Doctors without Borders. Teeba is an accomplished dancer in various styles of dance and has a talent for creating and editing videos. She is also a gifted public speaker and skilled speech writer. Teeba serves as Honorary Youth Ambassador for the Iraqi Children’s Foundation. She does an amazing job of balancing two mothers and two fathers!

Read an Excerpt



What mesmerized me at first were Teeba's eyes.

They were dark, round, and soulful. The eyes of a child who'd seen more than she should have in her short life. They were surrounded by burned and mottled skin, thick with scar tissue, covering what should have been warm, smooth, olive skin. The scar tissue traveled up her forehead and across much of her scalp. All that remained of her dark hair was a few wisps just over her right eye, above her ears, and scattered in the back of her head. Clad in a plaid jumper zipped up tight to her neck, she was seated on her father's lap, her tiny body tucked into his, with his protective hand clutching her shoulder.

She was four years old, living thousands of miles away in war-torn Iraq. But as I gazed into her eyes through the black-and-white photo in my Sunday newspaper, I felt as though she were sitting right there in front of me. In an instant, it was as if the air had been sucked out of the room, taking with it everything happening around me. The sun streaming through my window on that July morning, the sounds of my husband, Tim, heading out to walk our dog, Phantom, the smell of the hot coffee I'd just poured — it all faded away.

Through the lens of the camera, the little girl's eyes locked with mine, imploring: Help me.

I'd only intended a quick flip through the newspaper before Tim and I headed out for a round of golf. That was how we often spent our weekend days in the summer. We were empty-nesters, me in my early fifties and he in his sixties, me childless and he with three grown children from a previous marriage.

But the eyes of four-year-old Teeba Furat Fadhil brought me to a dead stop on page A3 of the July 16, 2006, issue of Cleveland's The Plain Dealer.

Her picture appeared beside an article headlined, "War's Scars Leave Dozens of Iraqis in Pain, Despair: Not Enough Surgeons to Fix Terrible Injuries." As I read the article, I learned Teeba had been riding in a taxi with her father and brother in one of the most dangerous regions of Iraq, Diyala Province, about sixty miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, when the vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. She was just nineteen months old. Thankfully, Teeba was wearing a heavy coat that protected most of her body from the flames, but her hands, face, ears, and scalp were severely burned, leaving her disfigured. Her father was uninjured, but her three-year-old brother, Yousif, later died from his injuries.

Teeba was just one of the many Iraqis at that time who had suffered disfiguring injuries due to violence but were left without good options for proper medical care. According to the article, the Iraqi Assembly for Plastic Surgeons estimated that twenty of the thirty-four plastic surgeons registered there before the 2003 invasion had been killed or had fled due to threats of violence. Those remaining were bogged down by heavy caseloads and shortages of supplies and equipment. The waiting list for even an examination by plastic surgeons at Baghdad's government-run hospital was at least a year.

To be honest, I normally wouldn't have done anything more than skim the headline on such an article during those days. Even though our country was more than three years into the Iraq War, I really didn't pay much attention to the war or Middle East politics. I was like a lot of Americans who hear the day-in, day-out stories of horrific violence but allow it to fade into the background of our lives. I'd just skim the headlines before getting back to the daily rhythms of my life.

That's why I'd missed some startling events in the weeks prior to that Sunday. A suicide truck bomb had killed more than sixty people in a Baghdad market. A bus carrying mourners returning from the burial of a loved one was ambushed, and thirty people at a meeting of the Olympic Committee had been abducted. On the same day I first saw Teeba's picture, the death count of American service members reached 2,539, and Iraq was on the verge of outright civil war.

Sixty people dead, thirty people kidnapped, and the 2,539th soldier killed. Back then, those were all just numbers to me — sound bites that had been going in one ear and out the other for years.

Until that day.

Seeing Teeba was like a slap in the face. Suddenly I was staring into the eyes of one little girl who put a human face on the stream of bad news coming out of Iraq. There was one quote from the article in particular that gave me a good, hard shake, making me decide to do something. From the caption of Teeba's photo, I read this quote from her father, Furat: "She's already asked about getting a wig."

A wig, I thought. Maybe I can get her a wig.

Only a few months prior, I'd co-chaired a fund-raising event for Wigs for Kids, a nonprofit organization that makes custom human-hair wigs for kids who have lost their hair due to illness or injury. Sitting on my work to-do list at that moment were a bunch of follow-up tasks still lingering from the Wigs for Kids fund-raiser, so it was still fresh in my mind.

I grabbed scissors from the kitchen drawer and, without taking my eyes off Teeba's face, I clipped out the article, headed upstairs to my home office, and made a photocopy. I taped the original to the wall over my desk, and I folded up the copy and placed it in the pocket of my golf jacket. At that moment I knew I wouldn't stop until I found her, no matter how long it took. I felt a steely determination that was different from anything I'd experienced in the past, even with my trademark laser focus.

I was still staring into Teeba's eyes, and I realized I was crying. Help me, her eyes begged.

I will.

* * *

I hadn't wanted to help with the Wigs for Kids event to begin with. It violated my number-one rule of volunteer work: no kids. I'd never been able to have my own children, and the thought of getting involved with a children's charity was just too painful.

I always expected that I would have children. When I was growing up in the 1970s, plenty of the teenagers around me were experimenting with hard drugs, but I resisted, fearful it would cause birth defects in the children I was sure I would have one day.

I met my first husband when I was nineteen. The signs of trouble were there before we got married. At one point I split up with him and moved to Chicago, seeking a fresh start on my own. But when he would come to visit, he seemed to have changed his ways. So when I decided to come back to Cleveland to marry him when I was twenty-five and he was forty-one, I thought things would be different. I ignored everything and everyone warning me.

In the beginning, he shut the door on having children. Later he opened the door just a tiny bit by telling me "maybe." Our marriage crashed and burned after five years, when I was only thirty years old and knew for sure that my priorities were not his. I asked myself: If I had a friend in this situation, what advice would I give her? I would tell her that she should leave, and I knew I needed to take my own advice. And I never looked back.

I started seeing Tim soon after my separation, and he had all the attributes of the guy I'd always dreamed of being with. He was a dedicated father to his three children, always treated people kindly and with respect, and had a crazy sense of humor that I loved. He was a man whose glass was always half-full, with a sense of calmness and control about him. I thought again of the kind of advice I would have given a friend — This is a good guy, now don't blow it!

But when we married in 1988, he was forty-five, his children were six, eleven, and twelve, and he didn't want more. I could see the door swinging shut on my dream of becoming a mother. Soon after we married, the bleeding started — intense pain and hemorrhaging that led to a diagnosis of uterine fibroids, with hysterectomy as the recommended treatment.

Then that was it. The door closed and locked. I would never be a mother.

On the outside, I hid behind the bravado of a career woman who didn't have time for kids and the burdens that came along with motherhood. Few people knew how I really felt. That's why I'd always adhered to that "no kids" rule in my volunteer work. It brought me too close to that secret pain that I'd tried so hard to hide. Most of my energy went into helping charities serving animals in need. But my good friend Maria Dietz, who worked at a hair salon and spa and had volunteered with Wigs for Kids in the past, pulled me into the planning process for the event, even though I resisted.

It was a bread crumb, I see now — one of those tiny seeds God plants in your life when He's planning to take you in a whole different direction than what you had in mind.

* * *

A wig. I can get a wig for Teeba.

Teeba was the first thing on my mind when I woke up the next morning. I headed to my desk in my home office, where I launched into my work as a marketing and public relations consultant. I was finishing the wrap-up from the Wigs for Kids fund-raiser and digging into a new marketing project for one of my largest clients.

But the article about Teeba, staring down at me from the wall above my desk, kept distracting me. Finally, I set aside what I'd been working on and instead began searching online for contact information for James Palmer, the reporter who'd written the article about Teeba. It didn't take long to dig up his email address.

Just before 10:00 a.m. on July 17, 2006, I typed the email that would change my life forever:

Hi James –

Re: Teeba Furat, 4year-old girl who survived bombing in Iraq

I can get this little girl a wig. I'm affiliated with Wigs for Kids. Please call me asap if you can.

Barbara Marlowe

I clicked Send. Then I started working the phones.



It would be years before I finally pieced together everything that happened to Teeba and her family on November 29, 2003. I learned that Teeba's older brother, three-year-old Yousif, had been enviously watching the other kids in their rural village of Al Khalis riding their bicycles, and he'd begged their father, Furat, to let him have a bike of his own.

Violence was a daily part of their lives, so they didn't leave Al Khalis often. But on that day, Furat told Yousif that he would take him to look at bicycles once he and Teeba had visited the doctor and finished their shopping in Baqubah, about fifteen minutes away. I can just picture Yousif 's squirming impatience — a typical three-year-old stuck running errands with his dad while dreaming about the possibility of getting his own bike. Furat called for a taxi to take his two children and himself on their errands, and he sat in front with the driver while Yousif and Teeba climbed into the back. By November, temperatures have usually cooled into the sixties in that part of Iraq, and Teeba wore a heavy overcoat, a choice I would clearly see as fortunate later on.

The trip was short, but it was dangerous. People in Iraq had been hopeful about what Saddam Hussein's fall from power that April would mean for their country, but the summer and fall of 2003 had been bloody seasons. Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda were gaining strength, and guerrilla warfare was tearing apart cities and villages like Al Khalis. Just a few months before, a suicide bomber exploded close to the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing seventeen and wounding more than one hundred, the deadliest attack in UN history. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) littered Iraq's streets.

It could have been anything — a dead animal or a bag of trash or even just a carefully hidden mound of earth. Concealed there, the roadside bomb waited for Furat and his children to come along, and when their taxi hit it, the back seat was immediately consumed by flames. Teeba's coat protected most of her body from the fire, but her head, face, and hands were scorched, resulting in third-degree burns. The cartilage of her ears was burned off, and much of her scalp was burned severely enough to ensure she would never grow hair again. Furat was uninjured. Yousif survived, but he died shortly thereafter as he was transported to a government-run hospital.

I cringe when I imagine the medical care Teeba received when she reached the hospital, which lacked the basic supplies and skilled healthcare providers she urgently needed. Nurses further damaged her skin by scrubbing it with water. A full three days passed before Furat was able to transfer Teeba to an American Red Cross burn clinic in Baghdad, where she finally received dry powder and ointments to treat her burns. After forty days in the burn clinic, Teeba was permitted to return to Al Khalis.

As devastating as I imagined her recovery was when I heard about it, my heart broke at the life that awaited Teeba in her village as she healed and grew. There were people in her community who weren't supportive of those with disabilities and disfigurements, and she was shunned for her appearance. Children teased her to the point where her parents worried about how she would be treated when she started school. And the possibilities that she could one day marry or live independently were slim. After the pain of losing their firstborn son, Furat and his wife, Dunia, then had to struggle to find the money to pay for Teeba's medications, which were little more than salves to help in her healing and ease the intense itching. The kind of intensive plastic surgery that would be required to repair her scarred face and scalp was out of reach.

Then they met James Palmer. He was working as a freelance journalist in Iraq at the time, and he learned of Teeba's story through an employee at a Baghdad blood bank. That employee didn't know much about Teeba, only that she was a young girl who'd been injured in a roadside bombing. But he told me that tidbit stuck in his memory, and when he later decided to pursue a story about Iraqi civilians, both children and adults, who had been severely injured in attacks and were struggling to receive the care they needed, he thought about Teeba.

So James invited Furat and Teeba, by then four years old, to come to his hotel in Baghdad for an interview. Nearly three years had passed since Teeba's accident, and the violence in Iraq had continued to escalate. I would only later come to understand the level of crisis the country faced at that time. Earlier that year, the al-Askari mosque in Samarra, one of the most revered Shiite shrines in Iraq, had been bombed. That event touched off a wave of sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, two sects of the Islamic faith who have been deeply divided for more than a thousand years. On the day of the Samarra mosque bombing, mobs took to the streets in cities throughout Iraq, calling for revenge and setting fire to dozens of Sunni mosques as retaliation. In a single day, Shiite militia had attacked twenty-seven Sunni mosques in Baghdad alone. The tensions in the city had only escalated since then.

It would be a dangerous trip for Furat and Teeba, but it was the only possible way they could meet James. As a freelance journalist, he told me he had a hard time paying translators enough to accompany him on a trip as treacherous as the one to Al Khalis would have been. He also couldn't afford security. To get around, James and the young, inexperienced translators he was able to afford were forced to roam the city in a beat-up car trying to pass James off as an Iraqi so he could do his reporting.

As dangerous as that trip to Baghdad would be, Furat wasn't deterred. He was so desperate to get help for Teeba that he agreed to bring her the sixty miles by bus to meet James in his Baghdad hotel room on June 5, 2006.

James's hotel was located in the upper-middle-class Baghdad district of Karrada, partially obscured from the road by trees and with a porch outside that was usually buried in dust. When Furat and Teeba arrived at James's door, Teeba was initially shy, a tiny figure hiding behind her father. In contrast, James told me that Furat was warm and friendly, with a big smile and easy laugh. James often kept the shades drawn across the large picture window to block out the glaring summer sun, and in the darkened room Furat found a Tom and Jerry cartoon Teeba could watch on TV while they talked.

Through James's translator, Furat began to tell their story — the accident, Yousif 's death, Teeba's long recovery, and their struggles to pay her medical bills. Kids ridiculed her, adults stared, and Teeba was jealous of other children who had hair and unblemished skin.

"She's supposed to start school next year," said Furat. "I worry about how she'll be treated by the other children."

Just like many other families that James was interviewing at the time, Furat told him how frustrated he was with the Iraqi hospital system.


Excerpted from "A Brave Face"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Barbara Marlowe and Teeba Furat Marlowe, with Jennifer Keirn.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Eyes Wide Open 1

Chapter 2 A Boy and His Bike 7

Chapter 3 Teeba: Tears of a Child 12

Chapter 4 The Search Begins 15

Chapter 5 My Big Break 23

Chapter 6 Teeba: From Sorrow to Hope 34

Chapter 7 Meeting Teeba 41

Chapter 8 Teeba: Coming to America 49

Chapter 9 Warm Welcome 53

Chapter 10 Teeba: Golden Locks 60

Chapter 11 Reality Check 62

Chapter 12 A Life of Struggle 68

Chapter 13 Homecoming 73

Chapter 14 The First Surgery 81

Chapter 15 Teeba: Meeting Dr. Gosain 90

Chapter 16 A House in Chaos 92

Chapter 17 Graft Day 103

Chapter 18 "My Brother and Your Mother Sent Me" 113

Chapter 19 Enduring Stares 120

Chapter 20 Teeba: School Days 129

Chapter 21 Growing Distant 136

Chapter 22 Teeba: Missing Home 143

Chapter 23 The Odds Are Against Us 145

Chapter 24 Home to Stay 154

Chapter 25 A Connection Between Mothers 166

Chapter 26 Dunia: What Is This Life? 169

Chapter 27 Teeba: A Second Chance 177

Chapter 28 The Journey Home 180

Chapter 29 Dunia: I Try My Best 190

Chapter 30 Reunion 193

Chapter 31 Teeba: A Mother's Love 201

Chapter 32 Amer-Iraqi Moms 204

Chapter 33 Dunia: Angels on Earth 219

Chapter 34 Teeba: All Part of His Plan 222

Epilogue 228

I Am Brave and Loyal 233

Acknowledgments 235

About the Authors 241

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