"She couldn't tell us how much it hurt"
9-month-old baby Rouba’s eyes are bright and inquisitive as she looks around the waiting room of Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah’s clinic at the American University Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC).
They sparkle above full, pink cheeks, and she gurgles curiously to her father. He adjusts her on his lap, gingerly trying to move her right leg out from underneath her, which is wrapped in a blood-stained and foul-smelling rag. She winces in pain, letting out a whimper and a small cry.
Fleeing Syria and Rouba's accident
The family had escaped to Lebanon from Syria, after bombings destroyed their home and killed two of Rouba’s uncles. A month ago Rouba was playing with her sister on the floor of the family’s small, rented flat in the north of Lebanon. Their living space is so small that there is barely any room for the girls to play. Beside them, a pot of boiling hot tea had been placed on the floor for lack of furniture in the cramped room. Rouba fell onto it, splashing scalding liquid onto her tiny body.
The spilled tea left angry, bleeding burns on her shoulder and stomach. Her parents immediately tried holding the baby who was screaming in pain under cold water, but quickly realised there was no use.
"We felt so helpless," Rouba’s father tells us. "She's so tiny and just a baby. She couldn’t tell us how much it hurt or where or how to take away her pain. None of the hospitals would admit us. We don't have any money."
Rouba was finally admitted to a hospital with a programme to treat refugees. Doctors attempted to graft skin from her leg to her upper body. But the hospital, unable to accommodate the pressure of the refugee influx, lacked the proper resources to provide quality medical care. The graft went terribly wrong, and the wounds, now including the one left behind from the chunk that had been carved out for the skin graft, began to fester.
All Rouba's parents could do for their baby girl was to apply cold water on her burns and wound, so the wounds became badly infected and led to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of infection which manifests as a full-body inflammatory response. The rot in her leg ate away at her flesh, exposing her muscle tissue. Rouba was admitted for sepsis, but after 25 days, the family’s coverage ran out and she had to be discharged before completing treatment.
Rouba's INARA journey
By the time Rouba was able to meet with INARA staff and doctors, she had not been washed in over a month for fear of further infection. Changing wound dressings had been costing them just over $90 per change. They were tired, anxious and desperate, too scared to go back to the hospital for further treatment and unable to afford an alternative.
After cleaning her wounds and changing her dressings, INARA doctors informed us that if Rouba were not to receive an operation on her leg as soon as possible, her leg would become deformed. Rouba has been tested and will need antibiotics for seven days before she can receive the surgery. INARA is taking on Rouba's case as an immediate priority.
Update (January 2016)
Rouba had the surgery on her left leg and stayed overnight at the hospital. The next day she was discharged. Doctors advised she would need a garment in a few weeks and regular follow ups.
Update (February 2016)
Rouba was issued with her first garment. This would be put on the burns on her torso to ensure that the skin heals appropriately.
Update (December 2016)
Rouba was fitted with her second garment. She had grown considerably and needed a new one to fit her growing body.