SAV­ING GRACE

SA doc­tors fix Pales­tinian boy

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Front Page -

“Don’t for­get to make a wish be­fore you blow your can­dles out,” a group of bub­bly teenagers re­minded 16-yearold Muham­mad Tamimi at his birth­day party at Jo­han­nes­burg’s Windy­brow The­atre in Novem­ber.

But one of the Pales­tinian teen’s wishes had al­ready been granted a month be­fore­hand, thanks to a group of skilled SA doc­tors.

A year ago, Muham­mad was shot in the head with a rub­ber­coated metal bul­let by Is­raeli sol­diers dur­ing a mil­i­tary raid on the Pales­tinian vil­lage of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank.

At the time he was play­ing foot­ball with his friends.

“There was a lot of gun­fire hap­pen­ing right next to the soc­cer field. Then the gun­fire sud­denly stopped.

“When that hap­pens it usu­ally means the Is­raeli army has ei­ther ar­rested or killed some­one,” he ex­plained.

Cu­ri­ous, Muham­mad climbed a lad­der to look over a 4m high wall that bor­dered the soc­cer field.

An Is­raeli soldier spot­ted him and fired a shot, he says.

“I fell off the lad­der, landed on my back and lost con­scious­ness.”

The bul­let went through Muham­mad’s nose and lodged in his brain. A large part of his skull had to be re­moved, caus­ing his left eye to sink.

He lost vi­sion in his eye and could not open his mouth fully.

Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties claimed the teen had sus­tained the in­juries by fall­ing off his bi­cy­cle – even though a sur­geon had re­moved the bul­let from his skull.

To this day no ac­tion has been taken against the Is­raeli soldier.

Doc­tors did not have the nec­es­sary equip­ment to per­form re­con­struc­tive surgery, so for months Muham­mad bat­tled to see, speak and eat.

Na­dia Meer of Dur­ban­based NGO Sham­saan (mean­ing “two suns” in Ara­bic), de­cided to as­sist Muham­mad after see­ing his post on Face­book ask­ing for help to have re­con­struc­tive surgery.

Rid­wan Mia – fa­mous for ground­break­ing skin grafts he per­formed on young burn sur­vivor Pip­pie Kruger – was ap­proached.

Mia then con­tacted max­illo­fa­cial sur­geons Col­lette Smit and Jameel De­sai.

Anaes­thetist Hizir Mukad­dam was also brought on board, and in Oc­to­ber the team per­formed a 5½-hour op­er­a­tion on Muham­mad in Jo­han­nes­burg.

The group re­con­structed a large part of his eye and mouth area, with Mia do­ing the re­con­struc­tive work and the max­illo­fa­cial sur­geons the bone work.

The op­er­a­tion was a re­sound­ing suc­cess, and Muham­mad healed well.

Mandla Man­dela, grand­son of Nel­son Man­dela, vis­ited Muham­mad in hos­pi­tal and com­mended all those in­volved in the op­er­a­tion.

“They are proud ex­am­ples of South Africans who give real ex­pres­sion to Madiba's spirit of sac­ri­fice and car­ing for one's fel­low man, es­pe­cially the most vul­ner­a­ble among us,” he said.

The team of doc­tors say they feel priv­i­leged to have been able to help the teen.

“Muham­mad was badly in­jured and peo­ple are quite strapped for re­sources in oc­cu­pied Pales­tine.

“Com­ing from a coun­try like South Africa, with its past of op­pres­sion, I can iden­tify with his sit­u­a­tion,” De­sai said.

“We try to do what we can to help the needy in our coun­try, but some­times we need to reach out to peo­ple from the out­side too,” he added.

Due to the na­ture of his fa­cial in­juries, Muham­mad could not spend too much time in the sun, and missed sim­ple plea­sures like play­ing foot­ball with his friends.

Sham­saan and the team of med­i­cal spe­cial­ists have brought the sun­shine back to Muham­mad’s life, but his other wish – to visit the beach – re­mains un­ful­filled.

“The sea is 25km away from our vil­lage and I have never been there be­fore,” he said.

“I see it every day from the bal­cony of my house but I can­not go be­cause of the Is­raeli check­points. I’ve never been granted per­mis­sion to go.”

There are more than 50 Is­raeli check­points in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries and Pales­tini­ans must ob­tain per­mits from the Is­raeli mil­i­tary to cross these check­points, which con- trol every facet of their life – from go­ing to the beach, to vis­it­ing fam­ily mem­bers in the ad­ja­cent vil­lage, or go­ing to school in a neigh­bour­ing city.

“My wish is for the oc­cu­pa­tion to end and free­dom of move­ment to be granted to us Pales­tini­ans so that we, too, can live our lives like other peo­ple,” he said.

Muham­mad has since re­turned to his vil­lage and has re­sumed his dis­rupted stud­ies.

Pho­to­graph: LEYYAH PA­TEL

DANC­ING WITH JOY: Muham­mad teaches South African young­sters how to per­form the Pales­tinian dabke dance at his birth­day party. In re­turn they taught him how to vosho

Pho­to­graphs: SHAM­SAAN AND SHAAZIA EBRAHIM

FUL­FILL­ING WISH: Muham­mad Tamimi has a new lease on life after un­der­go­ing re­con­struc­tive surgery in SA. Above left, dur­ing the 5½-hour surgery to re­con­struct Muham­mad’s face and be­low, the teen after the op­er­a­tion in Jo­han­nes­burg

Pho­to­graph: SHAM­SAAN

REACH­ING OUT: Nel­son Man­dela’s grand­son, Mandla Man­dela, vis­its Muham­mad Tamimi in hos­pi­tal

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