TIME White House

Syrian Refugee Featured on Humans of New York to Attend State of the Union

His wife and a daughter were killed in a bomb blast three years ago

A Syrian refugee who resettled in Michigan after losing seven family members in a missile strike will attend President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address as one of First Lady Michelle Obama’s guests.

Refaai Hamo, 55, was invited to Tuesday’s address after the Syrian scientist’s heartbreaking story was featured on the Humans of New York blog in December and prompted an overwhelming of support, including a response from President Obama himself.

Hamo left Syria, where he worked construction at night to pay for college, after a bomb tore through his home, killing his wife and one daughter. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in Turkey, where he fled to but couldn’t afford medical treatment.

“As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you’ve endured,” Obama wrote on Facebook. “You and your family are an inspiration.”

Hamo moved to Detroit on Dec. 18 with his three daughters and one son. “Welcome to your new home,” the president added. “You’re part of what makes America great.”

Hamo joins nearly two dozen other invited guests, including Air Force Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, who helped thwart a potential terror attack aboard on a Paris-bound train in August, and 12-year-old Braeden Mannering, who makes sack lunches for the homeless. The Obamas are also leaving one seat vacant for victims of gun violence “who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them.”

“I was thrilled when I heard that President Barack Obama is welcoming us into the United States,” Hamo said in a statement to USA Today. “I felt that hope was revived as well as the strength to continue my dreams and ambition in my new country. I am so proud and honored to be in this country and look forward to one day becoming an American citizen so that we can be part of making America a strong and great country.”

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