What was the last thing you did with your hands?

Fatima INARA Arwa Damon

Imagine a life where you couldn't do that anymore.

14-year old Fatima lost her hands in an explosion early on in the Syrian war. On January 29, she turns 15. Like so many other girls, she wants a birthday cake. But she also longs for a day when she can cut it herself and hand it out to those she loves.

The day before her fifteenth birthday, Fatima will undergo the first of many life-altering and costly operations to be able to use her hands again. Doctors will be able to do this with finger-like prosthetics attached to what’s left of her hands.

Chaos and confusion

Fatima wasn’t even a teen when she lost both of her hands in an explosion in her mother’s house. Fatima’s mother, Nafla, had lost her husband when she was still pregnant with Fatima, and the two lived alone together. They were all the other had in the world.

Neither Fatima nor her mother can recall any details from blast, just that Fatima was playing in her bedroom, and that her mother had just said goodbye to some guests who were over for tea. Suddenly, an explosion shook the house, and in the chaos and confusion that followed, all Fatima’s mother remembers is grabbing her bleeding daughter and running.

There were no hospitals in the area, so Fatima’s mother was forced to take her to a nearby house for first aid. There they covered what was left of Fatima’s mangled hands with gauze, which eventually became stuck to the wounds and resulted in infection.

Fatima and her mother Nafla never returned to their family house again because it was destroyed. From then on, they moved from village to village for two years as they fled bombings and waited for the end of the civil war.

Today, Fatima and Nafla live in a UNHCR apartment on the Lebanese border with Syria. Fatima was referred to INARA by International Medical Corps (IMC), who are currently providing her with mental health services.

Her INARA journey begins

When Fatima and Nafla came into our office, they were already resigned to the fact that Fatima had lost her hands in the blast forever, and that she would live as an amputee for the rest of her life. The situation weighed heavily on Fatima, who rarely leaves the house, tucking her arms into the pockets of her sweatshirt when she feels a stranger’s gaze.

However, an X-Ray at the American University Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) revealed something astounding: the bones of Fatima’s hands were still intact within the stumps at the end of her arms.

Dr. Bakhash, AUBMC’s hand specialist, explained that the improper management of Fatima’s wounds led to the skin healing around her injured hands and enclosing what was left of them under scar tissue and new, stretched skin. With surgery, the damage can be reversed, and with the help of finger-like prosthetics, doctors will be able to give Fatima her hands back.

Fatima Arwa Damon INARA

Fatima will now have multiple surgeries, spanning more than a year, so she can once again use her hands. These surgeries will be life-changing for Fatima, who has been refusing to go outside, let alone enroll in school. She rarely goes outside, despite her mother’s constant encouragement.

Fatima's dreams for the future

“Once I receive treatment,  I am going back to school,” she tells us surely.

Fatima has many hopes and dreams for her future - not just cutting a birthday cake. She loves to read and write, and dreams of becoming a language teacher someday, teaching young children Arabic. Once the INARA network is able to give her the ability to use her hands again, she will move one step closer towards achieving those dreams.

UPDATE (November 4, 2016)

Fatima has now had her sixth surgery. The doctors will need to do a small skin graft on her hands, and then she will be ready to be fitted for her prosthetic hands. 

We have also raised the full $50,000 needed in order to pay for all of Fatima's treatment. Thank you to everyone who donated. Read more.

UNICEF contributed to Fatima's treatment.