A nine-year-old Syrian girl, Cham, rescued after being trapped for forty hours under rubble after the earthquake and whose video of the rescue had gone viral, is at risk of having her legs amputated.
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Like many survivors of the February 6 earthquake that killed more than 45,000 people in Syria and Turkey, Cham al-Sheikh Mohammad suffers from traumatic rhabdomyolysis, or “the buried syndrome”.
Potentially fatal, this syndrome can lead to the amputation of a limb, damage to the kidneys or cause cardiac complications.
The little girl had been buried under the rubble of her home in Armanaz, in northwestern Syria. Rescuers had spotted her but it took six hours to extract her from the ruins.
In the video posted online by the White Helmets, the rescue workers who work in rebel areas in Syria, we hear them joking with the girl to give her courage.
She hums with them a song dedicated to the Syrian capital, Damascus (Cham in Arabic), whose name she bears, or asks them for water.
Cham’s mother and sister died in the collapse of their building in the rebel province of Idlib.
Cham, his father and two brothers survived. The family had settled in Armanaz after fleeing the Syrian regime and Russian bombings in the south of Idlib province three years ago.
“She is at risk of having her legs amputated” after being stuck under concrete slabs for 40 hours, Tarek Moustafa, an orthopedic surgeon at a hospital in Idleb, told AFP.
“Help me,” implores Cham, lying on her hospital bed, a doll by her side.
“Smile of Death”
The amputation operation has been postponed, but she is still recovering in a hospital in Idlib, says the doctor, who works at a hospital run by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).
“Cham is one of many patients with the syndrome who have flocked to area hospitals,” according to the doctor.
The health department in the rebel and jihadist-held city of Idlib has identified at least 100 patients with buried syndrome in the region, many of whom suffer from kidney failure.
Most are children traumatized by the tragedy, which left some of them orphans.
Their limbs were compressed for more than 12 hours, which blocked blood circulation.
Often, the patient complains only of pain in the limbs, unaware that he is at risk of developing life-threatening heart and kidney problems later on.
“It’s what we call ‘the smile of death’,” explains Moustafa.
When the White Helmets learned that Cham could be amputated, they called on social media to pray for her and all others affected by this syndrome.
Mohamed Nasreddine, the rescuer who offered Cham to sing in the video to give her courage during the long rescue operation, told AFP how “seeing her talking under the rubble galvanized us”.
“Our joy was indescribable when she came out,” he recalls.
In the video footage, another rescuer, Ziad Hamdi, promises Cham to take her to the amusement park if she holds out during the rescue.
“In this case, I will wear beautiful clothes, I want to be a princess,” the little girl replies happily.
“I did not expect such a response” from a child who is fighting to survive, admits Mr. Hamdi.
“The roof had fallen on his legs, when I worked to extricate his legs, I had tears in my eyes,” he continues. “She reminded me of my five-year-old daughter.”
“I promised to take him to the amusement park and I will keep my promise,” assures the rescuer.