NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. — The same day an 11-year-old Iraqi boy underwent heart surgery on Long Island last week, the widow of an Army captain who had befriended the youngster was opening a package at her home in California.
It was Capt. Brian Freeman's personal effects, sent to Charlotte Freeman after his death in Iraq Jan. 20. They included a Sony PlayStation Portable hand-held video game console that he had played with during breaks.
On Tuesday, Charlotte Freeman fought back tears as she presented the gadget to the smiling, gum-chewing boy named Ali as a token of what she hoped would be a lifelong friendship.
"I want to thank 'Brian's Army' for completing this promise he made to Ali," Charlotte Freeman said at a news conference at Schneider Children's Hospital.
"When Brian's personal effects came in, (the toy) just was there and it hit me that was something I should bring," she said. "I think it's a lot more personal. It was something that Brian actually had."
An interpreter said Ali's "biggest thanks are to God, Captain Freeman and Charlotte."
When Brian Freeman was abducted and killed in Karbala by Iraqi militants, he had just learned that Ali had received the paperwork needed to visit the United States for surgery.
Freeman had learned of the boy's heart problem after he befriended him and his father, Abdul. The family name was withheld for fear of reprisals in Iraq.
Freeman contacted Gift of Life International, which helped raise $10,000 to pay travel and medical costs for Ali and another boy who has not yet arrived in the United States.
After Freeman was killed, members of his unit and his widow both contacted Gift of Life to ensure that Ali would still receive the promised surgery.
Ali and his father were flown to Long Island, and he received the lifesaving heart surgery last Wednesday. Physicians repaired a hole between the upper chambers of Ali's heart.
"Our expectation for Ali is that he will make a complete recovery," said Dr. Frederick Bierman, adding that the surgery went so well Ali was released from the hospital Saturday.
Ali, dressed in a gray sweater and white T-shirt, spoke through an interpreter in thanking the Freemans, hospital staff and others. But when he was presented with a stuffed bear from a representative of Ronald McDonald House, he did manage a meek "thank you" in English.
Freeman, a West Point graduate and Army reservist from Temecula, Calif., and his wife had two children together, Gunnar, 3, and 1-year-old Ingrid.