UNHCR – Picture at an exhibition opens a door for young Syrian burns victim

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SHAFAQNA – A picture at an exhibition has helped to change the life of Judy El Khatib, a nine-year-old Syrian girl who had been unable to move her right arm since suffering bad burn injuries four years ago.

The young refugee suffered the debilitating injury in Damascus not long after the Syria crisis erupted in March 2011. She was playing in the kitchen when an explosion rocked the family home and knocked a pot of boiling water off the stove and all over her arm.

As the security situation deteriorated in Syria, the family sought refuge in Egypt. Judy hoped she could get help and the family approached UNHCR, which has a limited budget to help people in need of medical care.

But the refugee agency was unable to do much because the injuries on Judy’s scarred arm were classified as only “cosmetic,” and funds were needed for more pressing cases. The young girl feared she would end up having to live with disability for the rest of her life.

Then fate intervened in December last year. The UN refugee agency organized a photo exhibition in Cairo about refugees in Egypt, including their daily life and challenges. Included in “Refugee Voices in Egypt: Refuge, Resilience and Exile,” was a photo of Judy with a caption telling her poignant story and struggle to get the medical care her family could not afford.

One influential visitor to the gallery was very moved and told UNHCR that she would like to help. She contacted Amr Mabrouk, a highly respected plastic surgeon at Cairo’s Ain Shams University and he agreed to treat Judy for free.

“We were extremely happy, grateful, surprised, hopeful, anxious – and worried,” her mother, Ola, recalled. After examining Judy in mid-December, Dr. Mabrouk, told her parents that she would need surgery as soon as possible.

In the last week of December, she was taken to the El Demerdash Hospital where the doctor carried out surgery aimed at helping Judy move her right arm without the skin contracting. The hospital also offered its services for free.

The stitches were removed in early January and Dr. Mabrouk was happy with the results. “Judy can move her arm freely now; it was a successful surgery,” he said. “We are very happy,” added Ola.

Hany Fares, a UNHCR health officer, thanked all involved in helping Judy regain mobility, while noting that she would need further surgery and time to recover from the trauma. “Suffering from a burn injury is a traumatic experience that has a profound effect on the development of a child,” he said, while adding that “reconstructive surgery benefits the recovery process.”

The photo exhibition featuring Scott Nelson’s photograph of Judy has been displayed at galleries in Cairo and Alexandria. There are currently some 190,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Egypt, of which 136,000 are from Syria. They live predominantly in urban areas, including Greater Cairo, Alexandria and Damietta.

By Nahla Samaha and Nawar Rifaah in Cairo, Egypt

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