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Paralysed by a bullet, Abdellatif is determined to recover


Emergency | Rehabilitation | Chad | PUBLISHED ON March 25th 2024
Abdellatif does his physiotherapy exercises with the HI team at the hospital.

Adré, October 2023. Abdellatif is paralysed from the waist down. He does his physiotherapy exercises with the HI team at the MSF hospital. They work together every day so that the little boy can regain his mobility and sensation. | © HI

The little boy, wounded by gunfire almost a year ago, is working hard to regain feeling and mobility in his legs through intensive rehabilitation sessions, supported by HI’s team in eastern Chad.

Abdellatif, aged 9, is full of smiles as he throws and catches a ball in the sunshine near the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Adré, just five kilometres from Sudan, where war broke out on 15 April 2023. Abdellatif was left paralysed after being shot. Today he remains positive, works hard, and makes jokes when Adrien, Humanity & Inclusion's physiotherapist, leads him in his daily exercises.

An innocent morning’s play turned upside down

Abdellatif is a patient at the hospital in Adré, a small border town in eastern Chad that is now home to almost 500,000 refugees who have fled the fighting in Sudan. Like Abdellatif, many others were injured in the horrific violence that has been raging in Sudan's West Darfur region since April 2023.

One morning in April, at around 8 o'clock, Abdellatif was playing with some friends outside his house in the town of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, 30 kilometres from the Chadian border. Suddenly, and without warning, he was hit by gunfire. Abdellatif and his family set off on foot to cross the border in the hope of finding medical help in Chad. When they arrived, Abdellatif was operated on at MSF's hospital, but the bullet had damaged his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. The little boy felt like he had lost all hope. 

A crucial meeting with HI’s team and the start of rehabilitation 

HI’s team has been providing rehabilitation care in Adré hospital since June 2023. After a few initial sessions with Abdellatif, Adrien, HI’s physiotherapist, noticed that the young boy still had some sensation in his legs. This glimmer of hope encouraged them to work together more to see if there was any room for Abdellatif to regain some mobility. Since then, Abdellatif has had regular physiotherapy sessions that include physical exercises and stimulating games. 

Using a specially-built board that allows him to stand upright, Abdellatif throws and catches an American football while Adrien holds his legs and gives him a few instructions, such as "left, right, do it again", in basic Arabic. The aim: to activate his upper limbs and core to stimulate the muscles and nervous system of his lower limbs. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, Abdellatif could regain a certain level of sensation, or even mobility.

Next, Adrien places his hand on Abdellatif's chest and asks him to try to resist as he pushes him backwards. The aim of this technique is to make muscles in other parts of the body contract as the patient tries to stabilise themselves. In cases of spinal cord injury, the prospects for recovery are based on intensive rehabilitation, which involves a great deal of repetition. So, the more patients do their rehabilitation exercises, the better their chances of recovery.

Abdellatif’s optimism and determination are an inspiration

Abdellatif is always smiling and has a very positive attitude towards his recovery. He is highly motivated and continues to do his exercises during the day, even when he's not with Adrien.

As part of HI’s rehabilitation project, HI also trains carers, such as parents or family members, offering guidance and techniques to practise, explaining both how to do it and why. Most of Abdellatif's family lives outside the hospital, in the Ambelia refugee camp, outside the town of Adré. His father, Bakhit, stays with his son and has even found a job at the hospital to be near him.

Before his injury, Abdellatif went to school and was learning about electrics after school in a garage with a tutor. He also enjoyed playing with his friends. Since he has been in hospital, he spends a lot of time drawing. His younger brothers visit him from the refugee camp, helping him into his wheelchair and getting him outside of the hospital tent where he spends most of his time. Everyone in the hospital calls him "Boss" and he smiles and jokes with the nursing staff and the other patients! Above all, Abdellatif says he wants to be able to get back on his feet and resume his studies, and his father hopes with all his heart that he will be able to walk again.

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