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Lebanon: Giving Syrian war amputees prostheses and hope

30-10-2013 Feature

The conflict and violence that have engulfed Syria for over two years have left many Syrians physically handicapped. Some have crossed into Lebanon, seeking physical rehabilitation and artificial limbs. The ICRC supports them by providing limb prostheses and even artificial eyes.

Alaa can now give a right-handed handshake again. That is a good reason to smile for this Syrian refugee, who lost an upper limb in the conflict wrecking his homeland. The 21-year-old youth was recently fitted with an arm prosthesis procured by the ICRC at an orthopaedic centre in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. More than three months after his arm was severed by a shell that crashed into his neighbourhood in his hometown of Qussair, Alaa can feel relatively normal again.

"It is definitely not like a normal arm… the prosthesis is static, nevertheless, it helps me carry out minor and simple tasks, such as moving light things, holding my phone, pressing a button, etc..," he said as he showed his ‘new arm’.

Alaa is among scores of Syrian war-wounded who sought medical assistance and physical rehabilitation in Lebanon because of the lack such services at home or the difficulty in gaining access to them.

"My arm was completely blown off from my body when I was hit by the shell... I was operated on and stitched up at a field hospital first, then I came to Lebanon for further treatment and in order to get a prosthesis," Alaa said. "Thank God, I cannot complain now, although I want to have a myoelectric prosthesis eventually," he said. He travelled to Lebanon with his mother and they plan to return home once his treatment is completed. "I want to go back to Syria… even if I risk losing the other arm," Alaa added.

This year Alaa and 13 other Syrians injured and handicapped by the armed conflict in their country received upper limb prostheses and artificial eyes from the ICRC in Lebanon. This is part of the organization’s assistance to Syria’s war wounded. Plans are under way to provide four other patients with artificial arms.

 Making and fitting prostheses

Orthopaedic technician Ahmad al-Masri explains that the process of producing and fitting the prosthesis may take up to three weeks. He said that the wound should be completely healed before any measurements can be taken as a prelude to the actual making of the artificial limb. 

"In the past year and a half we have fitted some 100 Syrian war handicapped with prostheses in this centre. The majority were leg amputees, obviously injured by land mines and other explosive remnants of war," al-Masri said. "There are still thousands of war amputees waiting for their chance to get artificial limbs, but this is becoming more difficult to secure, especially for those who cannot afford it, owing to the scarcity of funds" al-Masri added.

Tarek, 25, is among the lucky ones fitted with a prosthesis. He had suffered two injuries that necessitated the amputation of his right hand just below the elbow.

"I was injured in February, but it is only now that I could get a prosthesis," he said.  "Although it is mostly aesthetic, the artificial limb will make a difference in my life… I feel that I can act and live much more normally now... So far, I have kept my sleeve inside my pocket in order not to repel people or scare children..." he added.

The ICRC has been providing limb prostheses for permanently disabled war-wounded Syrians. "We come across lots of patients with arm or leg amputations, or paralysis caused by weapon injuries. But we are providing artificial limbs as well as eyes for patients, most of whom are young, and that's really sad," said Janet Askew, a member of the ICRC's health staff in Lebanon.