Born in Baghdad only seven months before the start of the war in Iraq, Youssif knew only a world of unpredictable violence. And yet, his family described him as happy and energetic with dreams of becoming a doctor. All that changed in January when three masked assailants doused Youssif in gasoline, set him on fire and left a scarred and traumatized boy.
Rescuing Youssif, the first television special related to CNN’s ongoing “Impact Your World” initiative, not only documents Youssif’s recovery but reveals how the network’s global audience embraced the story and offered money and support to speed his treatment. Impact Your World – Rescuing Youssif will premiere on Monday, Dec. 24, at 10 p.m., with replays on Tuesday, Dec. 25, at 1a.m. and 4 a.m. All times Eastern.
CNN’s Baghdad correspondent Arwa Damon first brought the story of Youssif’s plight to the world in August, reporting that treatment at a local hospital was second-rate and painful for Youssif. Youssif’s mother, Zaineb, movingly described how the dynamic personality of her son took a disheartening turn. CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on Youssif’s medical progress and provides insight into his emotional and physical recovery.
Response from CNN’s global audience was immediate and overwhelming. Online, the story became the single most-visited non-breaking news story in CNN.com’s 12-year history, with nearly 4 million page views within two days.
News of Youssif’s plight surfaced two months after CNN developed its Impact Your World initiative, a multi-platform effort to empower its global audience to make a difference in response to the stories they see online and on air. Through Impact Your World, more than 13,000 people from around the world contributed more than $300,000 to the Children’s Burn Foundation, allowing Youssif and his family to fly to the United States for treatment.
In addition, plastic surgeon Peter Grossman donated his services for the half dozen or more surgeries Youssif required for recovery. For Rescuing Youssif, Damon and Gupta remained in close contact with Youssif’s family in order to monitor the boy’s medical progress at the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles.
The documentary follows Youssif’s family as they experience a series of ‘firsts’ as they traveled and arrived in the United States, from learning how to use a toaster to seeing the ocean for the first time. It shows a Youssif breaking out of his shell and becoming, once again, a happy and energetic boy. And it reveals the generosity and concern of thousands of CNN viewers and online users.
Carol Kinstle is the executive producer and the director of CNN’s health and medical unit. David Martin is the senior producer of Rescuing Youssif. Mark Nelson is the vice president and senior executive producer of CNN Productions.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is CNN’s chief medical correspondent. Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon and an assistant professor of neurosurgery, plays an integral role in the network’s medical coverage, which includes American Morning, the weekend show House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and coverage of breaking medical news. He also co-hosts Accent Health for Turner Private Networks, produces a weekly podcast available on iTunes, contributes health news stories and the “Paging Dr. Gupta” blog for CNN.com, writes a column for TIME magazine and is a contributor to CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. In 2007, Gupta’s first book, Chasing Life: New Discoveries in the Search for Immortality to Help You Age Less Today, became a national bestseller.