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Salim, Iraq: “My heart stopped”

Emergency Rehabilitation

Salim left Jalawla, Iraq, with his family two years ago after the Islamic State group captured the city. As they fled, his son died and Salim had a heart attack. Since his return to Jalawla, Handicap International’s team monitors him and has provided him with physical therapy sessions and psychosocial support.

Shvan and Salim chat at the end of the physical therapy session.

Shvan and Salim chat at the end of the physical therapy session. | © E. Fourt / Handicap International

“It was in 2014 but I remember it like it was yesterday,” Salim tells Awtar, Handicap International’s psychosocial worker at the start of another session. “Our neighbors told us the Islamic State group had arrived in Jalawla and we immediately fled” he says as his eyes grow dim.

“On the way, my son’s diabetes got worse. We took him to hospital but he died soon afterwards. Then my brother was hit by a missile and also died. I was so shaken up my heart stopped. It was my turn to go to the hospital. A few weeks later, we took refuge in another town in the governorate. We stayed there for eighteen months.”

In March 2016, Salim and his family were finally able to return home. “Our house was in ruins and all the windows were smashed,” he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in my life, but nothing like the last two years. The Islamic State fighters entered our neighborhood and homes. They destroyed everything.”

When Handicap International’s team met Salim, a few months after his return, he was still traumatized by events. “He was sad and needed to talk,” says Awtar.

Shvan, physical therapist, assessed Salim’s needs. The organization gave him a bed and a stick to make it easier to walk, and provided him with physical therapy care. “We encouraged him to stay active. When you’re depressed it’s important to keep busy.” As he begins Salim’s exercises, he adds: “He’s made a lot of progress. He can walk around by himself now and he’s more independent.”

“His wife, Aliyah, is relieved,” adds Awtar. “She found it overwhelming: being constantly helping him and keeping the house running was too much for her. She and Salim seem in better spirits. In Salim’s case, the psychosocial support and physical therapy are both vital.”

“It’s not easy but we’re home now,” says Salim. “It makes all the difference when you feel at home... When I hear about Mosul, my heart goes out to everyone who’s been displaced. We went through the same thing. When I hear their stories it reminds me of when we fled two years ago. I hope that, like us, they will soon be able to return home.”

Date published: 11/18/16


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