Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meet Hanan

    After I wrote about land mines a few weeks ago, Lurie Children's Hospital said they had a young patient with a similar sort of injury, sponsored by the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. I knew that aspect would throw a curve to some readers, and decided to just step back and tell the story. Though I wanted to mention that I went to their Iftar Friday night, the day after Israel invaded Gaza, and felt welcomed by everyone I spoke with, which, to be honest, was exactly what I expected.

     Hanan is 7.
     She has a gap-toothed smile and loves Hello Kitty, the intensely cute Japanese cartoon character. A spangled Hello Kitty decorated her pink dress, which she demurely protected with a napkin Friday night, holding it in place with one hand while trying to navigate a fork around her dinner plate with the other, until a helpful tablemate taught her the tuck-the-napkin-into-your-collar trick.
     Hanan is a Palestinian from Syria, and came to Chicago in April for medical treatment for her right leg, which was blown off below the knee by a bomb in the Syrian civil war which, in case you’ve lost track, has cost more than 100,000 lives over the past three years and displaced millions.
     She was brought to Chicago by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
     “I met her in Jordan when I was on my way to Gaza for a medical mission in February,” said Sarah Alrayyes, media coordinator for the charity in Chicago. “I’ve met many, many kids, and she is a very special and unique girl. She’s extremely smart. She’s just very captivating, really. Anyone who would meet her could not help falling in love. Before I met her, I was warned by our CEO, Steve Sosebee: ‘You will fall in love.’ I later emailed him: ‘You are completely right.’”
     Hanan limped heavily as she went from hug to hug Friday at an Iftar — a Ramadan break-the-fast community meal — at Reza’s, held to benefit the fund and several others.
     Her parents couldn’t get out, but her grandmother took her to Jordan, where an aunt and uncle live.
     “Our Jordan chapter stumbled upon her case,” Alrayyes said. Chicago’s branch of the non-political, non-religious charity brought her case to the attention of Lurie Children’s Hospital, which issued a letter crucial in getting Hanan, who didn’t have a passport, to the United States for treatment.
     "Lurie Hospital has been wonderful," Alrayyes said. "Also Shriner's," which did work to stabilize Hanan's stump so it could be fitted with a prosthetic.
     It's not that they don't have hospitals in Jordan, but the prosthetic leg she got there was rudimentary; it hurt and fell apart; her grandmother had to stitch it together.
     Hanan was afraid of hospitals, understandably, so volunteers brought her to Lurie first to show her around. When she arrived, she worried about crossing the street, because of the tall buildings.
    "Afraid of snipers," explained Kathleen Keenan, Lurie spokeswoman. "We gave her a tour of the hospital and the ER. She wanted to know how many other children would be there, and would she be on the floor. This is all something I witnessed."
     Doctors are fitting her with a more advanced artificial leg: but not too advanced, so she'll be able to get it repaired back home. And of course it'll look great; something very important to Hanan.
    "We're going to make it look almost identical to her other leg," said Jeremiah Uronis, her prosthetist at Lurie, where Hanan also is working on rehabilitation.
    "She doesn't trust her limb at this point," Uronis said. But eventually she will walk so "you wouldn't be able to even tell" she has an artificial leg, which is being made "really heavy duty" because kids are as tough on their artificial limbs they are on everything else.
     While the hope is to return Hanan to her family in Syria for the start of school in September, there are other issues.
    "She is facing emotional challenges right now," Alrayyes said. "She has many fears. It's a traumatic experience for someone being so young; she was 6 years old."
    One problem is that she associates getting better with going back home.
    "She's having some challenges accepting the new leg," Alrayyes said. "She misses her family and wants to go back, but she's also afraid. She keeps asking: 'What if I lose my other leg?' "
     A heavy concern for a little girl to carry.
    "Imagine you're 7 years old, leaving your family," said Dr. Jeffrey Ackman, Shriner's chief of staff and Hanan's surgeon. "You don't speak the language, don't know anybody here and you're going into the hospital to have surgery. These kids are very brave."
     The war in Syria rages on, pushed out of the public eye by the battle in Gaza, which only increases the work for charitable groups like the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, which provides medical and humanitarian aid there.
     "They're overwhelmed. They're out of supplies. They're exhausted. The doctors and the staff are working around the clock," said Alrayyes, who called the situation dire.
     Whenever these conflicts arise, the tendency is for each side to view its losses with maximum sympathy while dismissing those of the other side as somehow deserved. In the U.S., we make the mistake of following suit, picking sides ourselves, when what we should be doing is focusing on the victims, often children, and urging both sides toward resolution.
    "The adults are fighting," Ackman said. "The adults are at war, and it's the kids who suffer."


  1. I don't mind this column, not at all. It's timely, and given the vile that is directed at Muslim-Americans, the humanizing counterbalance is needed. What I mind is the columns that are missing and how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and to a lesser extent other Middle Eastern conflicts like Syria, suck almost all the oxygen out of similar conflicts elsewhere where far more humans die. The *low* estimate of daily deaths in Congo alone is 1,000, dwarfing Syria, Gaza, Israel and Iraq combined (and yes, most of them are children too). But they're black so most of the media doesn't even pretend to treat them as humans, save the very occasional "Lost Boys of Sudan" type piece. Definitely nothing consistent. People who would otherwise shudder at being compared with Pat Buchanan become the living embodiment of his comments about "the Zulus." Nobody is shipping them to America for treatment. Nobody is saying our immigration laws would protect them if they showed up at our embassies (i.e., territory/border) claiming refugee status. Nobody is giving up their I-phones or other luxuries, let alone boycotting nations that fuel the violence.

    The responses you hear to this are usually all false deflections. "Why does that make caring about the Palestinians/Syrians/etc. wrong?" It doesn't - care about both. "How does the evil elsewhere in the world justify evil in the Middle East." It doesn't - fight them both. "We're more responsible in the Middle East (at least Palestine/Israel)" Arguably untrue (killing is a lot easier in Africa so a little support goes a long way - Sudan managed to kill half a million blacks in Darfur simply by supplying their killers with machettes), totally unreligous (yeah, Jesus would want you to ignore exponentially more deaths elsewhere) and opens up a realpolitik argument few are willing to engage in, and all irrelevant to the question. All are spins on "we can't walk and chew gum at the same time," but of course that's not true. Nobody reads those other stories. They aren't clickbait. I don't know what the reason is: racism against blacks, anti-semitism, Arab-"philo"ism, dependence on oil? But it's a terrible commentary on us and one I think we'll be hard-pressed to explain if asked in the afterlife.

    1. There's also the reality of "compassion fatigue" that occurs after you see one too many tragedies. Plus, those concerned with other areas like the Middle East are far better at getting publicity for their situations than those in south saharan Africa.

    2. Ana, maybe they were worried they had Ebola.

      Anyway, it's rare this poster likes any column. Don't know why he bothers. He should just start his own blog with his obsession for south sah. Africa. Perhaps this poster is black and not just obsessed with Africa.

      Graf has a point too.

    3. didn't know ana was so relgious


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