January 19, 2017
“Three years ago, when 10-year-old Syrian boy was 7 years old he was playing with his brothers in a field by his house in Syria when and came across a land mine. Like any typical boy he picked it up thinking it was a toy. Unfortunately, it was not. It exploded. He ultimately lost both legs, his left arm, and vision and hearing on his left side. His mother brought him to Jordan, but had to return to Syria to care for his many other siblings that were left behind. He has been under the care
of Souriyat Center since then.”- Dr. Soroosh Behshad.
I met him last year on the SAMS November 2015 Medical Mission, he had just come to Souriyat Center a few months prior. Souriyat Center is a home for wounded victims of the Syrian conflict based in Amman, Jordan and founded by five Syrian women who wanted to help those who might otherwise be forgotten. There are 25 patients at the center, they are young men and children who have amputated limbs or are paralyzed due to spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury. They were wounded from sniper bullets or shrapnel injuries during bomb explosions in Syria and most have lost or been separated from their family. At the center patients receive medical care, physical therapy, education, clothing and shelter. The Souriyat Center runs on an extremely tight budget and is not ideal or handicapped accessible (in fact there are two flights of stairs just to enter the building and the bathrooms and wheelchairs are ill-equipped), but the patients are well cared for and treated like family.
As an occupational therapist having worked at many rehabilitation centers in the US, I have never seen a center where there is such love and care for each other as at Souriyat. When I first met him he was angry and shy, often hiding, so I could not work with him much at all, but he left an impression on me (as he does most who meet him) and I never forgot him. Back in the US, I learned about special prosthetic hands one day at a class and I immediately thought of him. The E-Nable community designs 3-D printed functional hands for children and adults across the world. The designs are open access to allow anyone to use them. I contacted Souriyat, but my efforts were put on hold because he was away at a hospital getting fitted with prosthetic legs.
Months went by until I heard from the center again and found out he had returned. This time, after making plans to attend another SAMS mission in January 2017, I was determined to bring him the hands. After getting his measurements and doing much research, I found a maker named Ileana Ballesteros in Mexico who agreed to make two different hands for him. One hand, the Phoenix, would be controlled with his wrist movement, however given the small amount of wrist he had available I was unsure this would work. The other larger hand, called UnLimbited, would work with his elbow movement. The hands were finally shipped to me just in time a few days before my flight to Jordan and were carefully packed in my carry-on bag with the promise to send pictures to Ileana once he received them.
This time when I met him he had blossomed into a much more social child. I learned that the center was able to enroll him in school and that he had also taken up swimming upon his own request and this really seemed to have helped his demeanor. However, I noticed that he was still getting around on his stumps and hand on the floor- he was fast and fearless this way even navigating the flights of stairs at the center with ease. I asked about his prosthetic legs and learned that they were quite short for him, made without a knee joint, and that he does not like to wear them. The center encourages him to wear them a little each day anyway because they don’t want him to go through life scooting on the floor or in a wheelchair, but one day while I was there he hid one of the legs in defiance because he did not want to put them on.
I sat down with him ready to give him his hands hoping for better luck and could hardly contain my emotions. We tried the Phoenix hand on and the look of joy and hope on his face when he made it work for the first time was truly amazing. The Unlimbited hand did not fit right away and it needed to be reheated and adjusted to size a few days later, but in the end we were able make both of them fit. Working with him and watching him learn to use his new hands to pick up things and playfully scratch his head was truly one the most beautiful experiences of my life.
Nothing can give him back what he has lost – the prosthetics are no match for his own God-made limbs, they are no replacement for the parents and family he once lived happily with and they cannot return the innocent childhood he lost all too soon, but they are able to give him hope. It is with this hope that he can have strength to achieve his dreams one day.
By Safeya Shah
SAMS Medical Mission Volunteer