Three-year old Joumaa sits in the INARA office playing on a plastic recorder. He blows into it and giggles loudly. As he laughs he puts his hands behind his back and hides his burnt right hand with his left. Even when he is happy, he’s aware of the burns that prevent him from doing so much.
The night of the airstrike
“I have four children,” Joumaa’s father Hussein tells us. He looks nervous whenever he speaks about the day his child and wife were injured in Syria. “The three older children went to stay with their grandmother. Because Joumaa was so young, he stayed with his mother at our home. I was at work at the time in Lebanon.”
On the day of the injury, when Joumaa and his mother were fast asleep there was a nearby airstrike. It was very distant and they didn’t hear anything at that moment, until shrapnel caused their gas canister to explode. All of a sudden, their entire apartment was on fire. Joumaa’s mother didn’t have any time to think; she had to act on impulse. Her life was in danger and so was her son’s. She covered herself in blankets to put out the fire that was burning her face and neck, and grabbed her son, running as fast as her feet could carry her.
When she finally got outside she threw her son into the water tank to put the flames out. She pulled him out, took a few steps, and fainted from the exertion. Both of them were badly burnt.
The failed surgery
Their neighbors took them to a local hospital to get treatment and also contacted Hussein. When he heard about what happened, he came back to Syria immediately to visit them in the local hospital and do whatever he could to help them. He was shocked at how little the hospital was doing to treat their severe burns, largely due to how poorly resourced it was due to the ongoing war. He knew that he would have to get them to Damascus to get the proper help they deserved.
Once in the capital, Joumaa had a skin graft surgery on his hand. The burns on his hand had caused his fingers to fuse together, badly restricting the child’s movement. However, the operation failed and the child’s scars tightened even more around his hand, twisting it to one side.
“After we did the surgery and it failed I didn’t know what else to do,” the father tells us. “I couldn’t leave them in Syria. What for? So I decided they would have to come to Lebanon with me - and I hoped and prayed that we could find treatment for them both here.”
How INARA can help
When we meet the father, he is so grateful to find someone who can help his son. We introduce Joumaa to doctors at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) - who inform us that the three-year old boy will need a number of surgeries on his hand.
First he will need to have wires placed into his fingers to straighten them out, as they are currently twisted from the surgery that went wrong in Syria. After this, he will have a scar revision surgery to separate his fingers, ensuring the child’s mobility will be restored. The third and final surgery will remove a mound of skin on his hand that, as he grows older, would cause his skin to stretch and cause him a lot of discomfort.
Joumaa’s life now
“Joumaa really has been traumatized by what happened to him,” his father explains. “He wakes up in the middle of the night very upset. We have no idea what he sees in his dreams but it worries us. We tried to get him counselling for this in Syria, but once we left we couldn’t do this. We had no money.” Since leaving Syria he has less nightmares and they are slowly fading.
Once he has this operation, his mother and father hope that he will be able to lead a happier and healthier life. “We wish that he will get a good education and learn to read and write. Wherever he goes from there, he can choose what he wants to do. I want him to do well, that’s all.”
UPDATE: August 17, 2017
At one of Joumaa's follow-ups at AUBMC, doctors found that the small finger on his right hand was still misshapen. Therefore he would need another scar release surgery. This was booked in and went successfully. Joumaa has now been discharged and will be having regular follow-ups in the coming weeks.
UNICEF contributed to Joumaa's treatment.