As They Buried My Leg, I Limped in Search For a Prosthetic One

Thursday 5 April 201810:57 am
In a working class district crammed with Syrians in the Turkish city of Gaziantep sits a child under the age of 10 on the sidewalk in front of his house, watching random pedestrians and children playing in the street. He cannot join them, out of fear of mockery. Ahmed, who sought asylum in Turkey with his family after fleeing the eastern countryside of Aleppo, is one handed. His right hand was "taken by the bombardment", he said. Ahmed lost his forehand when the fragments of a missile ripped through the wall of his house in Syria. Not only has the strike caused part of his arm to be amputated, but also saw him suffer severe psychological disturbances. Since then his family has been on the lookout for an organization that could provide him with a prosthetic forearm and help him overcome the suffering inflicted on him at such a young age. Some humanitarian organizations have indeed provided prosthetics for those who have lost limbs in the Syrian war, yet could only cover the needs of a small number of amputees. There are thousands who are still in need of prosthetics. How do they cope with their conditions?

The Day Ahmed Lost His Forearm

"I was standing next to the window in the house in the Mafarid village, northern countryside of Manbij. It was when Daesh [the Islamic State militant group] controlled the village in 2016," Ahmed recalled. "One hour after locals finished the Friday's prayers we heard the roar of fighter jets that was getting closer to the village. I lost conciseness moments later; I didn't hear anything. I only remember the dust and mayhem inside the house." The metal fragment that hit Ahmed was of a missile fired by a Russian jet, according to a local news bulletin. The same airstrike killed his cousins and another child in the village. That day is still engraved on the memory of Ahmed's father. "I took my son to Manbij National Hospital. He was bleeding and his forearm was almost detached from his body. It was one of the hardest moments in my life," he told Raseef22. "After we arrived at the hospital he underwent surgery for many hours." The operation was successful and the bleeding stopped, yet doctors had no choice but to amputate his forearm. Ahmed does not want to go to school because of the prospect that his colleagues would not accept him in class. In the mean time, he has been training himself to write with his left hand. Ahmed's mother says he usually screams while asleep. But despite the psychological disturbances he has been suffering, his family is holding out hope that he will eventually overcome his ordeal. "The behavioral changes of the child will be expressed by actions, whether he is aware of that or not," Aya Mehana, a psychological support specialist, told Raseef22. "Screaming while asleep can be due to being terrified or having nightmares." Ahmed's parents have thus far been unsuccessful in their search for a prosthetics provider. "We had to sell part of our agricultural land, whose harvest was our income," his mother said. "We took the money and headed to the Syrian-Turkish borders to enter [Turkey] illegally and try to find somebody who is helping the victims of the Syrian war."

Initiatives to Help Amputees

After Raseef22 reached out to human rights organizations documenting violations in Syria, it turned out that there is no accurate estimate of those who have lost limbs during the war. "The government, or the Syrian regime, has to take responsibility for protecting Syrian children," Abdel-Kader Mando, the head of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, told Raseef22. "This is a well-known legal fact; the [government of a] country where violations take place is solely responsible for holding the culprits accountable. But how could that happen when the criminal is the state itself? Or Russia, the Syrian regime's ally?" "Also, the state has to pay the medical bills of the injured and compensate them financially," Mando went on, adding that "child amputees cannot be counted precisely, but there are thousands of them". Various organizations are seeking to cover the needs of Syrian amputees, yet thousands of whom have not been provided with the needed prosthetics. Physicians Across Continents is one of the organizations offering prosthetic limbs for Syrian amputees. Ramzy Sherif, head of Physicians Across Continents' media office, says the organization provides prosthetics for amputees based in Turkey, stressing that the service is completely free of charge. The organization manufactures artificial limbs that Syrian specialists attach to patients in its medical center. The organization also trains the specialists providing the service. "Any injured individual can communicate with us easily via phone, email, Skype or Whatsapp," Sherif said. "All the details of the patient would be written down on a document that contains the required medical information, and then we book the patient an appointment to come. We take the needed measurement then manufacture the prosthetic limb accordingly and attach it to the patient." When asked about other medical centers that provide the same service for Syrians, Sherif replied: "There is a center in [the Turkish border town of] Reyhanli and another in Gaziantep. There are other Syria-based small centers affiliated to different organizations." Volunteer relief teams in Syria have also been trying to provide prosthetic limbs for amputees, relying mostly on overseas support for humanitarian organizations. "I have been in contact with Canadians who expressed willingness to provide prosthetic limbs for 100 people," said Khawla Sa'ada, a medical student who seeks to help amputees in Syria. "Indeed I started to communicate the organizations I know to count the number of cases and send a list to the donors," she added. Such initiatives are nearly enough to cover the needs of Syrians who have lost limbs.

"We Took Your Leg to Bury It"

Sixteen-year-old Mahmoud moved with his family from Aleppo to Manbij. Like Ahmed, his house was bombed in an airstrike, which caused his hand to be cut off. Mahmoud still lives in Manbij; he could not cross the borders to look for a prosthetic hand in Turkey. Both families of Ahmed and Mahmoud stress that the chances of finding a prosthetics provider in Turkey is much higher than in Syria. A prosthesis can cost around $10,000, a hefty medical bill that many in the war-hit Syria cannot afford. Amputees occasionally get prosthetics that are not suitable for them before they find more fitting artificial limbs, a process that could take quite some time. It took Ahmed Ibrahim, who has lost a leg due to a mortar shell explosion in Aleppo, around two years to find the right prosthetic limb. "My dad told me while I was in hospital, 'we took your leg to bury it'," Ibrahim told Raseef22. "Afterwards, I started to look for a prosthetic limb." "It was a very tough journey at the beginning... The service provided by organizations aiding amputees was poor; I had to replace three prosthetic limbs within two years." In late 2016, Ibrahim's relentless efforts finally led him to a center in Turkey's Gaziantep named Will Steps Organization, which he said has "greatly helped me move on with my life". Thousands of Syrian amputees remain unable to follow suit.
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