Iraqi War Victims Turn to Social Media to Find Medical Help

2018-11-28

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  • It was spring 2007 in northern Iraq when 6-year-old Saja Saleem ran home from school with good news about her progress in school. She hoped to receive a gift her father had promised her.
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  • "I found myself spinning into the air...after a loud boom," Saleem, now age 17, told The Associated Press.
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  • Saleem lost her eyesight, right arm and an ear in the explosion. The cause was a roadside bomb. Months later, her injuries forced her to leave school after other students criticized her "scary face."
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  • Saleem recently turned to social media to find help. Eventually, her appeal captured the attention of a doctor who offered free medical care.
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  • Other Iraqis have also turned to social media.
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  • Emotional videos and pictures of people with war wounds and other disabilities have appeared on Facebook and other social media websites.
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  • The 2003 invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition and the violence that followed left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis wounded. That number increased with the 2014-2017 conflict against Islamic State forces. Many Iraqis have lost arms or legs. Their suffering continues long after the violence ended.
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  • Poor quality medical services, few specialized doctors or medical centers, and poverty have added to the suffering. Those who cannot get treatment at state-supported hospitals and those who find private doctors too costly are turning to social media to make appeals.
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  • Appeals are placed on the personal Facebook pages of patients or on the pages of aid groups and people with tens of thousands of followers. Patients describe their condition and provide contact information. Messages are also published on messaging services like WhatsApp and Viber.
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  • Saleem and her family remember the explosion that destroyed her life, and the years that followed as they struggled financially to get her treated.
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  • "When I hit the ground, I felt severe pain all over my body ... I was bleeding, a pool of blood around me ... everything turned dark and I lost consciousness," she said. She spoke from her bed at a Baghdad hospital, where doctors have been performing operations to repair her physical appearance for free.
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  • Saleem's mother, Khawla Omar Hussein, remembers her daughter's shouts when she regained consciousness and realized she had lost her right arm and ear.
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  • "She woke up screaming, crying: 'Mammy, mammy'," Hussein recalled. "Then she asked: 'Why can't I see...why is everything dark?'"
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  • Hospital workers told her it was the bandages covering her eyes and that she would see after they were removed. When that day came, the doctors told her she had lost both eyes.
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  • Nearly two years later, Saleem's family tried to send her back to school, where she was accepted only as a "listener" in class. But that soon ended as other students and teachers said that her face was difficult to look at.
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  • "I was crying day and night," Saleem said.
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  • The state-supported hospital was only able to perform the necessary treatments to save her life. So Saleem's family considered plastic and reconstructive surgery for her at a private hospital, but they were unable to pay $7,500 for the operations.
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  • Then, in late 2017, her mother made an appeal, leaving pictures of Saleem and other details in a public group on Viber. Days later, Abbas al-Sahan, one of Iraq's best plastic surgeons, offered to treat her for free.
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  • Al-Sahan heads the only state-operated hospital for plastic surgery in Iraq. He said that about 40 percent of the monthly operations his hospital preforms - between 600 to 850 - are for victims of bombings and other war-related explosions, as well as for those wounded in military operations.
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  • Saleem's family feels she is lucky. Not everyone gets the help they need through social media.
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  • Iraqi army Captain Salar al-Jaff was shot in January 2017, during the fight to recapture the city of Mosul from Islamic State. The bullet hit him in the head and left him paralyzed.
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  • Since then, he has been treated for the head wound, but not for the paralysis. He sold his car and all his possessions to raise money for three injections a day, each costing $100, to decrease the pain.
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  • Al-Sahan heads the only state-operated hospital for plastic surgery in Iraq. He said that about 40 percent of the monthly operations his hospital preforms - between 600 to 850 - are for victims of bombings and other war-related explosions, as well as for those wounded in military operations.
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  • Saleem's family feels she is lucky. Not everyone gets the help they need through social media.
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  • Iraqi army Captain Salar al-Jaff was shot in January 2017, during the fight to recapture the city of Mosul from Islamic State. The bullet hit him in the head and left him paralyzed.
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  • Since then, he has been treated for the head wound, but not for the paralysis. He sold his car and all his possessions to raise money for three injections a day, each costing $100, to decrease the pain.
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  • He also appeared in a video asking for help.
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  • But as of earlier this week, there have been no offers for free treatment
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  • I'm Susan Shand.
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  • The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.
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  • Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
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  • ____________________________________________________________
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  • Words in This Story
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  • reconstructive surgery - n. an operation done on a body part to return it to a former shape or to change the way that it looks
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  • paralyzed - adj. to be unable to move one's body
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  • scream - v. to make a loud cry; to shout
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  • consciousness - n. the state of being awake and able to communicate with others
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  • spin - v. to move around and around
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  • boom - n. the sound made by an explosion
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  • scary - adj. frightening
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  • page - n. a piece of information; part of a book or other publication