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Losing a leg, and almost love

Two days after getting engaged, Hussein was caught in the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) near an Iraqi army base in Fallujah. Hussein, a 28-year-old soldier, was knocked to the ground with a wounded right leg.

He used a head scarf to jerry-rig a tourniquet to stem the bleeding from his open thigh. He lay on the ground for a half-hour until he was taken to a hospital. Gangrene set in quickly, and his leg had to be amputated.

His fiancée, Hind, came to see him in the hospital and told him that she would still marry him. At the time, her father told Hussein he could still have his daughter’s hand. Two months later, he said the wedding was off because Hussein had lost his leg.

Worried that Hussein wouldn't be able to provide for his daughter and ashamed that she would marry a "not whole" man, the potential father-in-law said he must have a prosthetic leg before they married.

The odds were against him, but Hussein was determined to marry Hind.

“He was optimistic from the first time I met with him,” said photographer Ali Arkady. The Iraqi photographer had met Hussein while working on a story about war victims.

Not only did Hussein stand to lose his fiancée, he also received no money from the Iraqi army to pay for his medical care and his monthly pay was cut in half – not enough to support himself, much less a wife.

Hussein had been moved to the military medical center after staying in the Fallujah hospital, but the care was so bad that his family moved him to a private hospital. The army refused to pay for private care, Arkady said, so his family had to pay out of pocket.

This is a common story for wounded Iraq vets, Arkady said.

Statistics on the number of wounded Iraqi veterans aren’t available because the Iraqi army doesn’t track the information, but the New York Times interviewed wounded Iraqis for an article in 2008 and was told by several that their pay was cut and they weren’t compensated for medical care.

Military care or public hospitals often provide such poor care that the wounded and their families feel they have no choice but to pay for private doctors.

After Hussein left the hospital, he slept on a mattress in his family’s living room. His brother Ali quit his job as a barber to take care of him. Hussein’s anxiety kept him from sleeping at night, Arkady said, so the disabled vet would sleep late into the afternoon.

Despite the stress, Hussein’s spirits and sense of humor were strong. Doctors in the hospital would come by to joke with him, and at home he would start his mornings singing, Arkady said.

“He was strong inside and did not allow his leg injury to make him sad,” Arkady said.

Arkady published some of the photographs online in the summer of 2012 that caught the eye of an employee at a hospital specializing in medical rehabilitation in Sadr City, Baghdad. Moved by his story, the worker arranged for him to have a prosthetic leg fitted.

Hussein, able to stand on two legs, was then granted permission to marry Hind in November 2012.

Hussein still doesn’t have a job, but he has a wife and the approval of his father-in-law.

“He has a very happy and optimistic nature and seems to have overcome the incident,” Arkady said.

- Lauren Russell, CNN