A few days ago I was sitting in my office busy with a lot of office work. My desk was full of piles of paper. I didn’t even know what they were anymore. I received an email from Abeer, one of our main field workers in Aleppo.
I hesitated for a second before I opened her email and then wished I hadn’t. I hear about sad incidents every day, but it is all about the picture – in this case the eyes of a child lying helpless on a bed. I started reading and I couldn’t help but cry.
In her Email Abeer said:
It was almost 10 pm when I was on a visit to the University Hospital where my mom works in Aleppo city. The smell of blood and dead bodies filled the air there in the lobby. I was staring out into the night. It was a silent, dark night and the surgery room was empty.
Suddenly, I heard a lot of noise, people answering phone calls transmitting news of mortar shelling and snipers shooting in the Al Hamdania and Salah Al Din districts. Nurses and doctors started running towards the emergency room.
Moments later, the sound and the bright lights of the ambulances broke the silence and darkness. He was the first to arrive: A boy called Wael, covered with blood and carried by a man who was screaming as he rushed through the door of the ER. Wael’s blood ran to the ground all the way from the car to the lobby. He was unconscious and his lower jaw was completely gone.
Thousands of children have been killed since the beginning of the crisis in Syria. They are targeted in their schools, playgrounds, streets, and inside their homes. There’s hardly a safe place left for Syrian children, away from the car bombs, mortars or bullets.
Abeer’s Email continued:
Wael’s mother, her face covered with blood and tears, followed the doctors to the emergency room shouting, ‘Is he dead?’ One of the doctors said, ‘Get her out of here.’ She was shaking and choking on her tears, her voice full of anguish.
Wael’s 18-year-old sister was also there. I heard everyone talking about a sniper. The mother had suffered a shrapnel injury to her chest.
Despite the limited resources in the health sector in Syria, with almost half of the country’s hospitals destroyed, doctors are still trying to do everything they can to save lives. Wael’s surgery lasted for more than three hours. According to his doctor, it was a miracle that he survived.
Abeer took Wael on as a priority case among the many she already supports through SOS, and decided to bring his story to the world. She is brave and tough, and she has a warm heart. So she went to visit him the next day.
It was the intensive care room, full of injured people from the night before. Most of them were children. I counted six of them before I reached his bed in the corner.
Wael was awake when I arrived and his sister was sleeping beside his bed. He started using sign language to ask who I was, so I told him that I was going to be his friend.
Wael’s sister woke up and recounted the events of the previous night: ‘Wael was standing with my grandmother on the balcony in our house in Salah Al Din. We are displaced and moved to the house after our old home was completely destroyed. First we went to Lattakia and stayed there for a while, but we couldn’t afford to live there any longer, and we also couldn’t afford to rent a house in a safer area. Now look at my little brother’s face. He was holding biscuits, talking and laughing. Suddenly I heard a gunshot and then I saw him lying on the floor with blood all around him. I screamed for help. The sniper continued to shoot at our street but our courageous neighbour risked his life, taking Wael in his arms and crossing the street to bring him here.’
Wael interrupted the conversation, making clear that he wanted to see his mother and 12-year-old brother, Abdul-Karim. With improvised sign language he urged his sister is to tell their mother to watch out for snipers and mortars on her way to the hospital.
Then, chillingly, he imitated a gun shooting.
For the elder sister, it was very difficult to believe that her talkative little brother has become helpless and had to use sign language. ‘Will I ever be able to see his smile again?’ she asked. ‘What would that sniper’s answer be if I looked into his eyes and asked him why?’
Wael’s brother and mother arrived. Abdul-Karim was obviously trying to hold back tears when he first saw Wael lying in bed. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m here now, and I’m going to take care of you. Everything is going to be alright.’ He held Wael’s hand to his face and kissed it.
According to his doctors, Wael’s smile will never be the same again. He won’t be able to eat or talk any time soon. Wael will have to have a metal lower jaw and teeth transplant and a lot of reconstructive surgery in order to get his face as close as possible to what it used to be before.
With Abeer and our SOS team in Aleppo we will keep supporting Wael and try to get him the necessary resources to have his smile back. Millions of Syrian children have lost their smiles after three years of war, and we are committed to doing everything we can to reduce their suffering.
Abeer said, I asked Wael if I could take a photo of him, and he happily agreed. Although he had lost part of his face, he threw me three kisses in the air. It was the most innocent and honest reaction I have seen since the beginning of this brutal war.