Rema, 13, lost her leg after being trapped for 30 hours under the debris of her apartment building. From her room in one of Humanity & Inclusion’s 13 partner hospitals in northwest Syria, Rema shares her story of surviving the February earthquakes.
“We were asleep when we felt the first violent tremors," Rema recalls. "We were on the third floor. 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 toward me and there was a body just next to me. It was the body of a child; he must have been about 10 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 crushed under the weight of the rubble. An emergency medical team was dispatched to amputate her leg on-site before taking her to the hospital. She woke up from anesthesia to find herself in a hospital bed surrounded by her mother and aunt.
Rapid rehabilitation care
Since being admitted to the hospital, Rema has been cared for by Asma*, a physical therapist working at HI’s partner facility. As she always does with victims of such severe trauma, Asma first went with the hospital psychologist to talk to Rema and gain her trust. They assessed whether she understood that she had lost her leg and how well she was coming to terms with this distressing and life-changing event.
Asma quickly started Rema's rehabilitation sessions to help the girl’s recovery.
“We started with simple breathing techniques to help her deal with any phantom pain, which is common after an amputation,” Asma explains. “Then I gave her different exercises to do, sitting and standing, to develop her balance and strengthen her muscles.
"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 an amputation,” Asma adds. “A session lasts an average of 45 minutes, but it depends on Rema's condition. For the moment, our objective is to help Rema get around on crutches. This is the first step toward regaining autonomy."
Rema has shown courage and determination, earning the respect of the medical team accompanying her.
"From the beginning I was optimistic,” Rema says. “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 an artificial limb and I would be able to live normally. That really boosted my morale. I am doing exercises every day."
When 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 pediatrician so that one day she can in turn save the lives of other children.
*name has been changed