"My greatest pride is to see our patients, like Rema, able to walk again, thanks to the prostheses we have provided, and to be happy again".
These are the first words of Salahedin, Director of the Aqrabat Hospital - HI's partner in north-west Syria, when asked what he is most proud of, one year after the terrible earthquake that struck the region and claimed thousands of lives.
Rema continues to visit the hospital's rehabilitation center regularly, in particular for adjustments to her prosthesis. Today, Rema says she is feeling much better:
"I'd really given up hope of ever walking again, but thanks to this prosthesis I've been able to continue my studies, I feel at ease wherever I go and I feel almost as good as I did before."
A long convalescence
The teams at Aqrabat Hospital were fully mobilised from the very first hours following the disaster and are as determined as ever to support their patients, like Rema, in their long recovery.
The majority of injured survivors seen by HI’s partner at Agrabat Hospital suffer orthopaedic injuries that require prolonged rehabilitation to regain their mobility, strength and functionality.
"Ongoing rehabilitation sessions are essential to ensure optimum recovery and prevent long-term disability," explains Salahedin.
For people with severe orthopaedic injuries, the ability to move around independently can be compromised. The Aqrabat hospital helps patients to adapt to their prostheses, wheelchairs, crutches and any other aids that may meet their mobility needs. These carers also offer comprehensive pain management protocols, including medication, physiotherapy techniques and alternative therapies to help patients better manage the chronic pain that can result from their injuries.
Beyond the physical injuries, the trauma of the earthquake can have lasting psychological effects, such as post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
"The main challenges after an earthquake are to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the survivors. Our orthopaedic hospital is committed to providing holistic care to meet these challenges effectively over the long term", he assures us.
In the treatment room of the Aqrabat hospital rehabilitation centre, 3-year-old Noor gives a few shy smiles and blows into balloons. It was a warm moment, with "attentive" staff, says her father, who was also present. Noor was just two and a half years old when the violent tremors caused her house to collapse. She lay under the rubble for three days before being found by the emergency services.
"I lost my whole family in the earthquake. Noor is the only child I have left. Sometimes she asks me where her brother is, but I think she was little and doesn't remember everything."
Healing and resilience
Noor's right leg was amputated below the knee following the earthquake on 6 February 2023. Her left leg has undergone multiple operations. After seven months in hospital, she is still being closely monitored by HI's partner teams.
"Noor is still growing, so we have to readjust her prosthesis regularly. As for her other leg, it has been very weakened since the earthquake because of the many operations she has undergone. We're helping her with her rehabilitation and checking her prosthetic leg regularly", explains the physiotherapist accompanying her.
Alongside rehabilitation, it is important to provide psychological support for the little girl. Psychological support plays an essential role in overcoming complex emotional and mental difficulties, promoting healing, resilience and recovery.
As with many of the children injured in the earthquake, Aqrabat Hospital is organising dedicated recreational activities.
"My daughter was very nervous at first, but now she's better. She's started playing again, which is what she does most during the day", says Noor's father.
The constant threat of war
But for Salahedin, these moments of relaxation and joy should not overshadow the "profoundly difficult" situation, he says, of all these patients, in a region that has endured war for more than ten years.
"Not only are they grappling with the mental trauma caused by the earthquake, but they are also carrying the weight of ongoing distress linked to the war. Their daily lives are marked by an omnipresent sense of fear, accentuated by the constant threat of air strikes. What's more, the unpredictable nature of the conflict forces many of them to move frequently, in search of safer areas when the intensity of the war intensifies in their neighbourhood. This constant upheaval exacerbates their already fragile emotional and physical state, making their road to recovery even more complex and demanding", he concludes.