In a nation of bloodshed and pervasive fear, even the noblest of deeds cannot be assured a happy ending.
After six months of treatment in a children's hospital in Atlanta and care in the homes of two suburban families, Noor returned to Iraq.
There, her family would pay a price for accepting American help.
I caught up with Noor and her family in 2007, almost a year after her return. I went with them to see a doctor in what was then known as Baghdad's Green Zone. I last saw them in February 2008. Noor was 2½ then. She slithered along the grass like a snake, unable to stand or walk.
I wondered what would happen as she grew older in a harsh place like Iraq where, even before the war, care for children with disabilities was nominal at best. After years of punishing international sanctions under Hussein's rule and then war, children like Noor were an afterthought.
Five more years have passed. It was difficult to retain contact with them. No one in the family spoke English. Postal service was limited. Their telephone numbers changed as did their address. Everyone in America who was involved in Noor's care -- the soldiers, host families, doctors and the charity that shouldered the costs -- lost touch with her.
Now, as the Airbus jet sets down on Iraqi soil, I grow impatient to see her. Who is taking care of her? Does she still have that smile that melted hearts? I cannot wait for the sun to rise.
'Do you remember me?'
Our SUV makes its way through the chaos of Baghdad. Demonstrations by disenfranchised Sunnis earlier in the week closed off all the roads in and out of the central city. This morning, we are lucky, though we get news of bombings in two neighborhoods and in Mahmoudiya, about 25 miles south of here.
Security is tight in Baghdad, where sectarian tensions still run high. It's impossible to go anywhere without encountering concrete blast walls and checkpoints where Iraqi police search under cars for sticky bombs and use a hand-held device with an antenna to detect explosives.
Some people fear that outright civil war is a certainty in this splintered land.
We make our way south to Al Alam, now a largely Shiite neighborhood in southwest Baghdad where flags bearing images of Shiite saint Imam Hussein flutter in the wind. We turn off a busy road and enter a neighborhood of concrete homes painted in peanut butter hues of dust and desert.
The streets are under construction -- or were. Some company secured a government contract to fix the potholes and began digging up the roads but never finished. Above, hundreds of thin electric lines crisscross in a spaghetti-like jumble, connecting homes to private generators so people can have light and the comfort of a fan when the power goes out.
The only bursts of color here are the fire-engine red plastic tanks that collect and supply water to homes and the orange sun protectors that shade patios. And the posters for Fanta and Pepsi at the corner store.
I stare out the car window. Iraq, I think, will never recover in my lifetime.
The driver follows the directions Noor's grandfather, Khalaf Abbas, has provided and I finally arrive at a sheet-metal gate. Before I can knock, the gate opens. The family has been eagerly awaiting my arrival.
"We are so happy to see you," says Noor's father, Haider, through a translator.
Noor, I am told, was waiting by the gate for much of the morning and only just went inside. I realize I am late.
I walk into a room full of people: Haider's sisters, Zainab and Hijran, who still live at home; his second wife, Fatima; their two young sons; and Zainab's fiance, Qaddory Sultan.
Everyone is dressed in their finest. Haider and his father are wearing suits that put them oddly out of place in this modest home. But I am not noticing much at this moment.
My eyes fall on Noor.
She is no longer a cute, chubby baby. She has grown into a skinny 7-year-old. Sadness blankets her face; on this day, she rarely smiles.
I give her a big hug and a kiss. I tell her she looks beautiful in her embellished cream and maroon dress. Zainab tells me Noor insists on dressing immaculately. Her thick black hair is always decorated with colorful clips and ties. She wears matching shoes and a necklace I am sure she has borrowed from an aunt.
"Do you remember me?" I ask.
She cannot possibly. She was so young when I saw her last. But she thinks she does. She has been shown so many photographs of her odyssey, told so many stories about how the Americans saved her. She has been told who I am; that I have come from America, from the city she once visited.