For six hours on Feb. 26, 2016, Dr. Jeffrey Cone — along with Dr. Craig Hobar — worked on Qusay Hussein’s face and nasal passage.
“Not many have gone through what Qusay has gone through,” Cone, craniofacial surgeon, says about the refugee who was left for dead after a suicide bombing in his native Iraq. Hussein had undergone more than 50 previous procedures.
“There were soft-tissue issues as well as bone,” Cone continues. “They both had to be addressed. He had had an overgrowth of the bone on the nasal floor. That wasn’t as obvious until we were in the surgery. We burred a new floor to the nasal passage. It took that long because there were so many things that we were doing.”
To dispel any lingering suspense, the operation was a success. Hussein, 27, was recently honored during his GED celebration at Austin Community College.
Readers might recall Hussein’s story when he was featured in a Season for Caring article in 2013. Even his father didn’t recognize him after the 2006 bombing.
“Take me so I don’t die,” Hussein called out amid the post-explosion chaos. A police transport truck moved him with others to a clinic. A doctor told his father: “Don’t bother. He’s not going to last a half hour. Take care of your other sons.”
That doctor greatly underestimated Hussein’s will to live.
“I am bionic,” joked Hussein, whose English has improved incredibly in the past three years, thanks to training from the iACT interfaith charity, then ESL classes at ACC. “What’s amazing about Dr. Jeffrey, when you talk to him, he listens to you. … He gives you plenty of time. Some doctors are so quick.”
“He happens to be a super healer,” says Cone, who practices at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center and Wellspring Plastic Surgery. “He heals really quickly. We call him Wolverine. And like Wolverine, he has metal in his body. His story is inspiring. As he’s telling me about it — how he helps so many people out — it’s a treat to help him out in whatever he needs.”
Despite his blindness and other disabilities, Hussein served as a counselor for Doctors without Borders during his time as a refugee in Jordan. He plans to study social work in college, and he hopes to earn his Ph.D. in psychology.
“I want to be a clinical psychologist helping people with trauma,” Hussien says. “I’m good at helping people get out of where they are.”
His tone turns darker when he talks about his hometown of Mosul, Iraq, currently controlled by ISIS, which confiscated his father’s two houses.
“My family moves from village to village to avoid the terrible ISIS,” Hussein says. “No phone. No electricity. They cook with wood. No jobs, no work. They put the city a thousand years back.”
Recent political demagoguery against refugees baffles him.
“If you go back to the history of the U.S., we are all refugees in this country,” he says. “It’s an amazing country for me. It gives you the opportunity to achieve your goals, if you have goals.”
He doesn’t know what to tell the people who are against refugees.
“They probably don’t interact with refugees and only hear about it on the news,” he says. “They don’t know what a refugee goes through. Nobody wants to leave their own country, but sometimes things become intolerable and you have to leave.”
Cone, 36, who grew up in Amarillo and attended medical school in Galveston, says much of the basic work was done by the time Hussein was referred to him by Dr. Lindsay Young, who had also performed surgery on the Iraqi-American.
“What he had in Iraq and Jordan, where they built a new nose from scratch, this was more about getting the scars to look better, the face to be balanced, the skull smoothed and the nose opened,” Cone says. “He’s seen the worst of humanity and also the best of humanity. He’s got such a joy and a drive to help others. That’s a powerful existence.”
Matthew Dowd and Evan Smith for Toast of the Town
“Presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump could win the presidency, but probably won’t.”
“Voters will be choosing between two presidential candidates who most people don’t like.”
“A loss at the top of the ticket might actually help down ballot.”
“The two-party system as we know it could very well spin apart. And that might be a good thing. Especially for monopoly states like Texas.”
These are some of the political bon mots gleaned from a machine-gun-style talk given by Evan Smith and Matthew Dowd at Franklin Barbecue. The Toast of the Town event, which benefited the St. David’s Foundation’s health science scholarship program, was not only sold out, but also attracted a record-setting waiting list.
Part of that can be credited to the brisket. After all, most of the guests raised their hands when foundation captain Earl Maxwell asked who had previously eaten at the landmark spot.
Yet even those motivated primarily by meat got the show of the month. Smith, formerly of Texas Monthly, now at the Texas Tribune, was every bit as entertaining as Dowd, a practiced political consultant and opinion-maker as well as entrepreneur (also, our neighbor).
Big brains. Fast talkers. Unconventional thinkers. Their conclusions about the current political climate could fill a slim book.
Yet the takeaway, especially according to Dowd, is the possibility of a multiparty system in the near future.