From the moment they met four years ago in a Baghdad orphanage, one little Iraqi boy reached out to Maj. Scott Southworth and decided he was going to be his dad.
What neither of them could have know then, was that by bringing Alla'a to the United States and adopting him, Southworth would save him from starvation and filthy conditions at the government-run orphanage where 24 orphans were found last month, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports.
Two dozen emaciated boys were found by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers at the very same government-run orphanage for special-needs children that Alla'a would have been living in, had Southworth not intervened.
"That's unspeakable. I, uh, have a difficult time even thinking of that possibility. But it is what I believe would have happened to Alla'a. But Alla'a, I love him as my son. And I would die for him," Southworth said.
Many of the boys were near death when they were rescued last month by U.S. soldiers. They were tied up, naked and starving, with flies feeding on their open sores, while brand new clothes and tins of food stood unopened in rooms just down the hallway.
When the story aired on CBS News, Scott was shocked to find he knew some of the boys from his deployment back in 2003.
He and 15 other soldiers from his unit had volunteered at a Baghdad orphanage for ten months.
That's where he met little Alla'a, the boy he just couldn't leave behind.
Now Southworth is trying to perform the same miracle for the others — and bring all 24 of them to the United States.
He's distressed by the change in boys he remembers well, like Nashwan Merey, who was healthy four years ago.
Today, after his ordeal, Nashwan is barely a shadow of that smiling, healthy self.
"Being upset just isn't enough. Sympathy just isn't enough. These kids need action, and we're in a position where we know these children, we know what can happen here in the United States if they're brought here, and we're going to do something about it," Southworth said.
This is what can happen for special needs boys like Alla'a, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Now he has special care — he even runs on a treadmill to strengthen his legs.
"I think you can. C'mon. You're a tough guy," Southworth said. "Two more minutes."
It's high-tech, individual care that simply doesn't exist in war-torn Iraq today.
"Right now, the Iraqi government is struggling to maintain security and establish stability and when they're trying to do that, resources for orphanages are certainly going to be limited," Southworth said.
Scott has turned for help to Wisconsin's Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. It is a monumental task that needs the backing of both the U.S. and Iraqi governments as well as American's willing to open their homes to these special-needs boys, the way he has opened his home, and his heart to Alla'a.
"I love you dad," Alla'a said.
"I love you, too," Southworth replied.
Southworth believes the difference between life in Iraq and the U.S. for special-needs children like Alla'a and the others, is the difference between just existing and and really living.