In 2003, while volunteering at an orphanage for disabled children in Baghdad, National Guard Capt. Scott Southworth met Ala'a, a young Iraqi boy who could not walk because of cerebral palsy.
Now Ala'a, nearly 10, lives with Southworth in Wisconsin, and a doctor recently gave the pair great news: Ala'a soon may be able to walk.
On his tour of duty in Iraq, Southworth, now 32, was helping to train Iraqi police, a difficult job in a war zone and the triple-digit Baghdad heat.
"At the end of those days, we wanted to do something that would bring us back to reality," Southworth told ABC News' Charles Gibson on "Good Morning America." "It was Sept. 6, 2003, that we first went into the orphanage."
Ala'a, who learned English at the orphanage after being abandoned as a 4-year-old, dragged himself across the floor to greet the American.
The two soon became inseparable. Southworth loved spending time with Ala'a and watching him discover new things. For Ala'a, it was the first time someone made him feel special.
After a few months, affection, comfort and a bond began to grow and Ala'a started to call Southworth "baba," which means "daddy" in Arabic.
When Southworth learned that Ala'a soon would be transferred to a government hospital for the disabled where he would not receive adequate care, he made a life-altering decision to become Ala'a's legal foster father and bring him back to America.
"For me it was a spiritual decision," Southworth said.
Southworth, a Christian, said he could not justify leaving Ala'a behind. He imagined himself one day trying to get into heaven, and trying to explain why he left behind the young Christian Iraqi boy with cerebral palsy.
"Every excuse I came up with was just that: It was an excuse," Southworth said.
But the adoption process would not be easy, and Southworth's company was heading home.