Syria earthquake victim, child flown to UAE unaware of heartbreak ahead

ABU DHABI: As she cradles a pink stuffed animal at a hospital in the United Arab Emirates, a nine-year-old Syrian earthquake survivor recovers from wounds that nearly killed her and believes her mother is still alive.

Sham Sheikh Mohammed, who suffered severe crush injuries during a 40-hour ordeal under the rubble, has not yet been told that both her mother and sister died in the February 6 earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Syria and the Turkey died.

“I tell her her mother is in intensive care and her condition is difficult,” said her father Mohammad, who has hardly slept since Sham and his 15-year-old son Omar were kidnapped from rebel-held northwest Syria to Turkey and then flown to Abu Dhabi for emergency medical treatment.

Sham’s story captivated Syrians and others around the world after viral video showed her humming a tune with the White Helmet rescue group, who worked for six hours to free her.

She and her brother are among 12 survivors of the Syrian quake who were flown from the United Arab Emirates to Abu Dhabi for specialist treatment of their crush injuries.

Doctors at Burjeel Medical City hospital say they have life-threatening infections in their lower limbs “under control” without commenting on whether they were forced to amputate.

“Sham’s condition is stable,” said her father, who also declined to comment.

Sham’s survival encompassed the tragedy, hope and heartbreak of the 7.8 magnitude quake that leveled buildings across Turkey and parts of Syria last month.

After her rescue in the city of Armanaz in Idlib province drew global attention, the UAE dispatched a medical plane to fly her and Omar from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi.

“Both children are recovering well now,” their doctor in Abu Dhabi, Michael Uglow, said in a statement last week.

But Sham isn’t the only young survivor who is soon faced with a harrowing revelation.

– ‘We told her that everyone is alive’ –

At a nearby hospital, Israa al-Abdullah receives routine updates on her health but no updates on the fate of her family.

Like Sham, the 17-year-old was rescued from the Syrian government stronghold of Jableh after being trapped in rubble for hours.

She has injuries to her skull, pelvis and shoulder and nerve damage in her eyes, said her brother Mohammad, a Syrian army soldier who was in Damascus when the quake hit.

What Israa doesn’t know is that her parents and four other siblings all died in the earthquake, along with a brother’s wife and daughter.

Israa, her 12-year-old sister, and a nephew were the only survivors.

“We told her everyone was alive,” Mohammad said, closing the door of Israa’s hospital room so she couldn’t overhear.

Israa asks most about her mother, her sister Ghufran, as well as her young niece Jana – all of whom were killed, Mohammad said.

“I tell her I have no phone credit in the UAE,” when she asks to speak to them, he told AFP at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City Hospital.

– ‘My son died hungry’ –

Israa is hooked up to monitors and an IV drip and is panting heavily but can barely speak. The nerve damage has caused her to have squint and vision problems.

Doctors say she is likely to make a full recovery, according to Mohammad. But until she gets better, the truth about her family will remain a mystery.

“I buried my family members one by one,” Mohammad said. “I cannot say (Israa) anything until God heals her and she can stand up on her own two feet.”

In a nearby room, Ali Yussef Remmo, a displaced Syrian from rural Latakia province, is being treated for lower limb injuries.

The father of three has regained partial mobility in his legs and is confident he can walk again. But he is plagued by the loss of his youngest son and his wife, who was two months pregnant when their building collapsed.

The hardest part about being in an Emirati hospital is getting plates of food, knowing he couldn’t afford dinner for his family on the day the tremors took her life.

“My son died hungry,” he said with tears in his eyes.

“If I eat chicken, meat, apples or cookies, I think my 10-year-old has been deprived of all those things.” -AFP Syria earthquake victim, child flown to UAE unaware of heartbreak ahead

Russell Falcon

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