“Good girl Sarah,” cheered and praised Rima with her young nephews and nieces, who were gathering around the four-year-old Sarah whenever she succeeded in grabbing the spoon with her right hand to eat the rice.
Once she finished all of her rice, they all started to sing and Sarah was repeated after them with great joy; they were singing their favorite Fairouz song. It goes, “under the blue sky… the kids are growing up…”
Sarah is a Syrian girl from Irbin, a town located in the Damascus suburbs.
When Sarah was only a year and a half old, she and her family were attacked with a rocket bomb in the winter of 2013. It was a result of the violent battles and bombings occurring between the Al-Asad regime forces and the armed groups of the opposition, aiming to control the town of Irbin.
That bomb unfortunately caused severe harm to Sarah’s family, her three little brothers died, her mother’s leg was injured, and her father’s leg and hand were injured too.
For Sarah the loss was too much for such a little girl, three bomb fragments also hit her in the head and another big fragment hit her in the right elbow.
The whole family was taken to the field hospital; a simple building staffed by some doctors, nurses, and volunteers who stood against the Al-Asad regime, and turned it into a hospital to provide help and treatment to the victims in the town. However, it lacked many kinds of medical equipment and had no specialized doctors. There were also no equipped rooms to perform big and serious surgeries, due to the risks and difficulties in getting equipment into the town because of the hard siege that was forced on the town by the Al-Asad regime.
During the three days since Sarah arrived at the field hospital, the doctors could do nothing for her, they only bandaged her wounds and gave her pain killers. Then they decided to amputate her right arm to relieve her from the acute pain, but there was Suzan, a volunteer nurse in the hospital, who refused and prevented them from doing the amputation.
“Sarah had severe injuries in her head and her right arm,” said Suzan, “and the only way for her to survive and to get a proper medical treatment was to send her out of here to one of those public or private hospital in Damascus where all the medical equipment and specialized doctors are available.”
But getting out and leaving Irbin for Damascus was very dangerous and risky, the town was being bombed daily and the regime focused on all the town’s entries and exits in a very hard siege. They were arresting everyone who was suspected to be supportive of the opposition or working for it. “But my insistence to help Sarah,” Suzan said, “and fear that the kid could lose one of her arms made me go on with this risky adventure.”
I called my sister, Rima, who lives near Damascus, and a cardiovascular surgeon named Dr. Rami, who was a friend of mine, and asked them to meet me in Al-Omaween square in central Damascus. I gave my sister’s phone number to Sarah’s mother, so that she could be in contact with her daughter and check on her later.
I held Sarah in my arms and hired a taxi around 8:00 a.m., leaving the field hospital. Actually, I did not face many difficulties in getting ourselves out of Irbin that morning, because the bombing had ceased temporarily, and the regime used force to allow non-opposition forces to come in and out. Very few people knew about my volunteer job in the field hospital, and that helped me to get out of the town without any interrogation. That afternoon, I gave the kid to my friend the surgeon and my sister, explained to them her medical situation and went back directly to Irbin, knowing that Sarah was in good hands.
Sarah was admitted into one of the private hospitals in Damascus and stayed there for two months. Meanwhile Rima took good care of her and undertook all the expensive financial costs by selling off some of her jewelry and collecting all the donations she could get from her family members and friends. Dr. Rami supervised Sarah’s condition as well.
“Sarah has two problems,” Dr. Rami explained on Sarah’s medical condition, “the first one is the fragments in her head, which were so deep and could not be surgically removed without risking endangering the brain. As these fragments were stable, they will vesiculate with time and will not cause any serious health problems, apart from some irregular headaches and simple neurological reactions, which can be overcome with pain killers. The second problem is the right arm, where the fragment has already crushed the bones, cut off many blood vessels, and damaged most of the nerves. I accurately studied the condition of Sarah’s right arm with some nerve- and bone-specialized co-doctors and conducted many tests and examinations. We found out that two percent of the cells were still alive, which made me eliminate the choice of amputation and work on reviving the hand. Many surgeries including plastic surgeries were conducted. Then Sarah had to attend regular physical therapy courses to improve the condition of her arm.”
Sarah started to show some very slow improvement within the next months. Rima has accompanied her regularly to help get to the medical and physical therapy centers, helped her throughout the difficult neurological reactions caused by the fragments in her head, and taught her how to play and kept singing for her. Sarah stayed at Rima’s house for one year, because of the strict siege around Irbin that prevented anyone, including Sarah’s parents from leaving the town. In the spring of 2014, the parents were finally able to leave their town and headed to Damascus, where they now live with their daughter Sarah.
Today Sarah is about four and a half years old. She can move her hand a little bit and grab some things like a spoon or small toys. She can distinguish colors, knows how to count, and speaks as fluently as any other four-year-old kid. Rima is still visiting her regularly and they spend weeks together at Rima’s house sometimes.
Rima, who is a single thirty-year-old woman, said, “Sarah has filled my life with love and beauty, and Sarah is one of thousands of children, who had the violent, destructive war kill or distort their childhood. When I took care of Sarah, it was because I believed that hope still exists in this land, where the children deserve to live safely and happily”
Sarah and the children fly their kites, repeating after Rima the lovely song of Fairoz, “fly higher my kite.”