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Nine-year-old Wael was enjoying cookies and milk on his balcony when a sniper's bullet shattered his jaw, leaving his lower face horribly disfigured. The attack drove the boy's family from Aleppo and into the ranks of the millions displaced by civil war in Syria.
In the months after he was shot, Wael nearly died three times. He faces painful facial reconstruction before he is able to achieve a heart-breaking dream: to kiss his mother once again.
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“I asked where is my underlip [and] the doctors said I will get one after I have surgery. I hope after the surgery I’ll be able to talk and eat normally”, he said.
“I want my face back to be able to kiss my mother, sister and brother. I’m ready for my next surgery but I’m scared. I don’t want to go through the pain anymore. I just want to sleep and wake up when it’s all over.”
Wael vividly remembers the nightmare of the July day when he first cheated death.
“When I got shot by the sniper I was eating biscuits and drinking milk,” he said. "The bullet also shot my mom in the chest.”
A neighbor risked the gunfire to pull Wael to safety and he was taken to hospital in a small garbage truck.
“I heard the sound of a bullet, and then I saw Wael lying on the floor with his blood covering everything,” said his 18-year-old sister Abeer. “He was in the emergency room for three hours.”
“He was attached to big machines; I never imagined I would see him beside these machines. I just couldn’t believe that my little talkative brother might never be able to talk again.”
Wael was in hospital for a month, using sign language to communicate and being fed through a tube.During surgery to implant a metal jaw in his face, he stopped breathing twice.
In August, doctors were able to remove Wael’s feeding tube from his throat. His first words were, “Mom please, I’m in pain.”
His hospital bills were paid, in part, by a U.S.-funded charity, SOS Children’s Villages, which helped NBC News compile this report. The organization also found a new home for the family after a mortar fell on an Aleppo school, killing three children, soon after Wael returned to class in September.
“I don’t like school anymore,” Wael said.
The family moved to the coastal city of Lattakia, which is safer than Aleppo. But Wael never lets his guard down. “Are there any snipers here?” he asks as he steps outside his new home.
His 13-year-old brother, Abdul Kareem, said Wael was transformed by the sniper attack.
“He is always nervous and he cries a lot,” he said. “He even wakes up at night crying, asking us to watch out for snipers. He still thinks the sniper has followed us here to kill him.”
This report was compiled with the help of SOS Children’s Villages. To make a donation or sponsor a child visit their U.S. website here: www.SOS-USA.org