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Rema, 13 years old, lost her leg after being trapped under the debris for 30 hours


Emergency | Health | Rehabilitation | Syria | PUBLISHED ON February 20th 2023
Rema, 13, lives in Jenderes, northwest Syria. Her right leg had to be amputated after the roof of her building collapsed on her during the earthquake. She tells her story from her room at the hospital.

Rema, 13, lives in Jenderes, northwest Syria. Her right leg had to be amputated after the roof of her building collapsed on her during the earthquake. | © HI

Rema is a something of a miracle. From her room in one of HI’s 13 partner hospitals in the area of Jindires, northwest Syria, she tells us what happened to her.

“There was an aftershock and then the roof fell in on me”

Her face is very pale and there is a lost look in her dark eyes. She struggles to speak, her voice still a whisper. But two weeks after the earthquake that devastated parts of Turkey and northwest Syria, 13-year-old Rema remembers every minute of what happened after feeling the first tremors. She told us about it:

”We were asleep when we felt the first violent tremors, especially as we were on the third floor. Because the higher up you are, the more you feel them. They were really strong. Our door was stuck closed; it took a while to get it open. I went out before my parents to open the door for them and went downstairs ahead of them. When my parents were on the third floor, I was at the entrance of the building. I had almost reached the door when something fell on me from the roof; I tried to lift it off me, but I couldn’t. Then there was an aftershock and the roof came down on top of me. I couldn’t move anymore. All my family got out. I was stuck there and started to shout. My sister heard me. She went down and told our relatives that I was still alive. They came and started clearing away the debris around me. They started by freeing my arm and hair. They started digging towards me and there was a body just next to me. It was the body of a child; he must have been about ten years old. They kept digging and cleared a space around me. I was in a lot of pain because of the stones on top of me, but clearing the debris around me brought some relief. They gave me some water and made me drink some juice. I spent 30 hours under the debris.”

Rema's right leg was literally crushed under the weight of the rubble. An emergency medical team was dispatched to amputate her leg on site before taking her to hospital.  She came round from the anaesthetic to find herself in a hospital bed surrounded by her mother and aunt. One of a family of six girls and two boys, all her brothers and sisters are safe.

Rapid rehabilitation care…

A teenager who has lost her right leg is talking with her physiotherapist Since being admitted to the hospital, Rema has been cared for by Asma1, a physiotherapist working at this HI partner facility. As she always does with victims of such severe trauma, Asma first went with the hospital psychologist to talk to Rema and assess whether she understood that she had lost her leg and how well she was coming to terms with this distressing and life-changing event. And to gain her trust.

Asma then lost no time in starting Rema's rehabilitation sessions. She explained to us what the sessions involved:

“We started with simple breathing techniques to help her deal with any phantom pain, which is common after an amputation. Then I gave her different exercises to do, sitting and standing, to develop her balance and strengthen her muscles.”

…to prevent complications

"It is important to start these rehabilitation exercises as soon as possible to prevent complications from setting in, especially after a major surgical procedure like amputation. A session lasts an average of 45 minutes, but it depends on Rema's condition. It is too early to talk about a prosthesis. For the moment, our objective is to help Rema get around on crutches. This is a first step towards regaining autonomy."

Rema has held on in the face of her experience with courage and determination that has earned her the respect of the medical team accompanying her.

"From the beginning I was optimistic, I wanted to get on with my life, but when they came, they made me feel even more optimistic. They told me they were going to fit me with a prosthesis and I would be able to live normally. That really boosted my morale. I am doing exercises every day."  

When we asked how she sees her future, Rema simply said that she has hope and wants to get on with her life. Currently in the third grade, Rema is a serious student and plans to become a paediatrician. So that one day she can in turn save the lives of other children.

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