The Syrian refugee known as "The Scientist" on the popular Humans of New York blog arrived Thursday to a new life in the United States with four of his children and a simple message: It's not about him. It's about Syria.
The story of the man — a Kurdish civil engineer who asked NBC News to refer to him as Abu Ammar to protect his family in Syria — sparked an outpouring of compassion. Actor Edward Norton launched a fund-raiser that raised $450,000 for him — even President Barack Obama contributed.
Abu Ammar, speaking through an interpreter Thursday night, thanked Obama and "the great country" that has taken him in.
"Me as a person, I've been through a lot," he said at a news conference in Troy, Michigan, organized by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, which has resettled more than 100 Syrian refugee families.
But "the war is affecting not only me as person but the whole country," he said. "Syria is bleeding."
Abu Ammar told NBC News that a bomb killed his wife and a daughter almost three years ago. Living near destitution in Turkey, he has had to care for his five remaining children — even as he fights a diagnosis of stomach cancer.
Even so, "there are people outside who need that money much more than me," he told NBC News.
Sean de Four, vice president of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, said Abu Ammar's health was the organization's first priority.
The resettlement of Syrian and Muslim refugees in the United States is controversial, especially after the attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Some politicians have called for a ban on Muslims' entering the country.
Abu Ammar said Thursday night that he and his family shouldn't be categorized simply as refugees.
"We want to be as any citizen of the country that we're going to be living in," he said. "If they want to treat me as a only a refugee, I don't want to be here. I want to be a good citizen. ... I expect I will have opportunities here to express my feelings and how I feel as a human, and I believe I will give back to the government of the United States if I have that opportunity."