One Life, One Chance?

by Afia. Salam

There is usually an audible, sharp intake of breath when people first set eyes on them…. such is the magnitude of deformity due to severe burns…………… and that one 'accidental' glance is what people are usually willing to spare them….. in the hope that ignoring their existence would somehow make the reality disappear.

This seemed to be the fate for Saqlain, Fahim, Khurram, Sajida and Areeb……. victims of accidents that turned their lives into a painful, grotesque saga. Accidents that occurred either to the carelessness and callousness of adults or due to sheer bad luck. For instance, Saqlain Hussain Shah got up one morning and felt like frying an egg himself…….. but was soon engulfed in flames. He was totally burnt all over, and his neck became attached to his shoulder.

Fahim Shah, on the other hand, was a garage mechanic like so many other children of his age who have to earn to support themselves and their families. A careless cigarette smoker flung the butt, which fell on to his clothes which had petrol on them, resulting in extensive burns on face and body.

Little Sajida was travelling with her family on the train when a blast ripped through her compartment, killing her mother, sister and brother instantly, and she was left with the void of having lost her closest relatives, and scars all over her body.

Khurram Mukhtar was a playful young lad who liked to experiment…….. not realizing how dangerous they could prove to be sometimes. Taking the ingredients that go into making firecrackers, he decided to pulverize them further using a sil butta (Grind Stone)……… the entire thing exploded into tiny pieces, throwing him back with the impact……….. but not before completely damaging his hands… one of which had to be subsequently amputated.

And little Areeb's story has such a familiar ring to it……… burnt when a pot of hot oil accidentally fell on him in the kitchen when he was just a three year old. He still suffers from the physical and mental trauma of the accident, which has left large, very visible burn marks on his body.

Like so many other children who have suffered similar misfortunes, these children would have been scarred for life, physically, emotionally and socially, because either the families simply couldn't afford the specialized treatment needed to give them another chance at normalcy, or it simply wasn't available here due to the severity of the accidents.

This is where the House of Charity, a Houston-based organization stepped in. being involved in similar assistance to a hospital in Lahore under the Heal the Children Programme, the organization decided to send its team headed by a renowned plastic surgeon Mahar Anous, who, with the assistance of the PECHS Trauma and General Hospital carried out extensive surgeries, assisted by the hospital's plastic surgeon, Dr. Mazhar Nizam. He selected these five children for further treatment in the US.

Consequently, HASWA, Healthcare and Social Welfare Association was formed under the Chairman of Dr. Najam Qureshi, and led by Dr. Feroz Ismael, which took upon itself to ensure that this would not be a one-off thing, but an ongoing venture…. With an expressed aim of "Let's put a smile on their face."

HASWA would provide medical aid to those who have no resources, primarily focussing on children with congenital or injury related deformities, so they can get a second chance. Those who can be assisted here, will be provided medical assistance at the PECHS Hospital, and cases of those who cannot be assisted here will be sent for evaluation to the House Of Charity so they can be sent abroad for treatment not available here.

To give the above mentioned five children more than one chance to lead a normal life, Ghulam Mohammad Bombaywala, a Karachi-born American known for his philanthropic work in Houston, and Capt. Robert Ing, an American Airlines pilot who spends his spare time in helping out, flew here, spent time with the children and their families, got to know them, made the children comfortable with themselves, and flew out…… though not before some very prompt and sensitive assistance on part of PIA Operations Control officers, Mahmood and Ashqeen, and Capt. and crew of the flight PK. 712 to New York who made the journey possible, and comfortable for the children who were leaving everyone and everything familiar behind.

The children there will be kept as family members, will go to school, undergo treatment to the tune of 1 million UD$, and will be accompanied by their escorts back to their home and families.

Meanwhile, HASWA will be getting another batch of children ready here for them to take with them……. So more can get more than once chance in a lifetime.


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