Syria’s ‘miracle baby’ has cheated death several times – and brought together people across the world
The Turkish doctors treating her are calling her the “miracle baby”.
The survival of just one Syrian child refugee against tremendous odds has astonished medics around the world.
“She has cheated death at least three times,” one of her doctors at Mersin Hospital, Dr Cagatay Demirci, told Sky News. “Each one of those times might be called a miracle.”
Still only 18 months old, Dalal was rushed across the border from Syria’s Idlib province to Turkey at the turn of the year with her life hanging by a thread.
Dalal, along with her five siblings and parents, had been sleeping in their tent in Idlib when the stove they’d been using to keep warm set the shelter alight.
She was so badly burned the medics who first saw her initially concluded there was nothing they could do for her.
“Her skin was black like coal in many places,” Dr Cagatay said. “It was dead.”
But, not for the first time, Dalal proved the medics wrong.
“Our team went to work on her and did what we could but we left that night thinking she would not make it through the night. But when we came back in the morning, she was still here, still alive. And we thought ok, this baby wants to live!” he continued.
Mobile phone pictures of the incident on 10 January show a tremendous fire as people fought to pull the children to safety.
Dalal’s elder sister, 10-year-old Yasmin, was the worst affected and died instantly but Dalal, then only 18 months, still had a pulse although she was badly burned.
An astonishing amount of her body had been burned – an estimated 90% – and she had inhaled a lot of searing hot air causing worrying damage to her lungs and windpipe.
However, because of her age, and because the family was in a camp near the Turkish border, she was considered an emergency case and rushed across.
She arrived alone in Turkey hours after the fire and was in surgery by 6am the morning after with a team of doctors at Mersin Hospital beginning the long fight to save her life.
Now more than three months on, she has proved an enduring symbol of survival and confounded doctors who’ve taken an interest in her case from around the world.
Sky News first reported on her case a few weeks after she’d been admitted to Turkey.
Then, her doctors gave her just a 10% chance of survival.
Virtually her entire body was swathed in bandages. She looked like a miniature mummy and her doctors were counting her life in hours and minutes. At the time, my team was unsure whether she’d still be alive by the time our report aired a few hours after filming.
But she’s clung on.
She went on to get septicemia (serious bacterial blood poisoning) three times. Each time the medics thought she was not going to pull through. But each time she did.
She’s already had dozens of surgical procedures to graft skin onto her leg and arm and her skull. Her blackened hands had to be amputated.
“No doctor likes to do this, especially on a baby,” said Dr Cagatay. “But our priority was to just keep her alive.”
Her eyelids, her ears, her lips, her hair and skin on her skull had all melted away in the fire. The team spent hours and hours grafting skin. And somehow she’s survived.
She still has no ears, and her face needs extensive reconstruction. The doctors estimate she will need probably another 10 years of plastic surgery. There is still a mountain of physical and emotional challenges ahead of her but the doctors are now so much more positive.
Talking directly to Dalal, Dr Cagatay said: “We should rename you. You are the miracle baby!”
Dalal responded to the doctor’s voice as soon as he entered her hospital room.
She listened to him intently and appeared to be reassured hearing the man who, along with his team, has pulled her back from the brink several times over.
During our filming of some of his operations on Dalal and her post-operative care, Dr Cagatay could be seen constantly talking to Dalal.
Despite her poor eyesight, Dalal seemed to recognise him – and there was an obvious bond between the two.
By the beginning of March, Dalal’s father had managed to get permission to enter Turkey to see his terribly injured daughter.
He has been by her bedside ever since.
Dalal still has a tracheotomy helping her to breathe which means she cannot talk. Father and daughter now communicate with clicking noises – and we watched as Dalal reacted to her father’s calls for “kisses” by clicking back.
She raised what was left of her hands so he could plant kisses on her and followed through by lifting her foot so he could kiss that too.
Her father played a nursery rhyme on his mobile phone and Dalal listened and appeared to try to swipe the device as she has seen her father do.
He telephoned Dalal’s mother and her siblings, who are still in the refugee camp in Idlib province, and Dalal cocked her head as she saw her mother pop up on the screen.
She leaned forward, her arms outstretched and trying to reach her mother through the phone. It was an incredibly touching moment.
The Turkish authorities have granted Dalal and her father a “temporary protection order” which allows them to only remain in the country during her medical procedures but the rest of the family do not have this permission.
Her mother and the rest of her siblings are still in a tent in Tal al Karamah, north of Idlib city, with the family desperately trying to get permission to join them in Turkey. So far, the Turkish authorities have provided the life-saving medical treatment free but the reconstructive surgical costs will not be covered.
Her doctors believe reuniting with her family would be best for Dalal’s recovery, which is by no means anywhere near over.
Thanks to Sky viewers who saw the initial report, some money has been raised through crowdfunding which was organised by a young, single mother in Surrey called Lisa Cavey.
“I cried when I first saw the report. I have a two-year-old myself, almost the same age as Dalal. And being a mother, I thought that could easily have been my daughter in different circumstances,” she said.
“I just felt this was so wrong that this had happened and the family were in this situation through no fault of their own. I just had to act. The refugee crisis breaks my heart and I strongly believe people should not be living in tents in 2021.”
She is using that money to help pay rent on a flat near the hospital.
Dalal is likely to be discharged from the hospital within the next couple of weeks and then there will be another challenge for her to overcome – avoiding infection whilst her skin heals enough for the reconstructive surgery she will need for years to come.
Dr Aydin Yucel, who is also part of Dalal’s medical team, told us: “It would not be good for Dalal to be returned to a tent in Syria. She needs a hygienic place to ensure she does not get infected.”
Our report caught also the attention of medics in America and Britain who offered to help with specialist equipment – and who also frankly wanted to learn from the Turkish burns specialists in Mersin who find their wards now filled with Syrian victims of bombing, shelling and fires.
“We do roughly eight operations a day,” Dr Cagatay told us. “And out of those I would say about five every day are Syrians who’ve been injured because of the war.”
It probably makes the Turkish surgical burns team some of the most experienced specialist medics in the world.
Soon after the American and British doctors connected with the Turkish medical team, others joined too.
Now there are more than a hundred medical teams from around the world who are part of the WhatsApp communication group run by Dr Cagatay and Mersin Hospital.
They regularly exchange videos of Dalal, swap messages of advice, guidance and surgical know-how and are astonished at her endurance.
“They all feel they know Dalal,” Dr Cagatay said.
They include doctors from Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, China, Bangladesh, Georgia, Mexico, Belgium, Italy, Romania and Mozambique.
It’s an astonishing line-up and collaboration – all brought together by one little girl whose plight really struck a chord.
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