AS US aircraft started pounding bases of Sunni jihadist outfit ISIS in Iraq on Friday, a 13-year-old Iraqi boy was recovering in a hospital bed in faraway Gurgaon — back from the jaws of death in his home country.
Two months ago, Hayder Hamid Haloob was travelling in a tractor with his family to their fields to cut the wheat crop in Alwand, on the outskirts of the holy city of Karbala — bordering the ISIS-controlled Jurf-Al-Sakhar area — when a landmine went off. The blast killed his uncle who was driving, and left his mother and aunt with shrapnel injuries in their arms and shoulders.
Hayder lost consciousness and hours later, after the group was rescued and taken to hospital by Iraqi troops, doctors detected a mass lodged in his brain, covering parts of the brain stem and cerebellum.
In the days that followed, the boy lost hearing in his right ear, had the right side of his face paralysed, suffered frequent headaches, episodes of unconsciousness, vomiting and ear discharge. He was taken to several hospitals and admitted in the ICU thrice. After trying for government help to travel to India in vain, the family finally made their own arrangements and brought Hayder to Delhi. The shrapnel in his brain — a nut — was finally removed at Gurgaon’s Fortis Hospital on August 3.
Doctors said his paralysis is likely to improve, but his hearing loss is probably permanent. According to Dr Sandeep Vaishya, consultant neurosurgeon at the hospital who operated on Hayder, “There was a 4.5 by 3 cm abscess due to the infection from the lodged shrapnel, spread over two bones in the skull — the petrous and the mastoid. We had to remove parts of these bones and put an artificial covering on his skull.”
He said the shrapnel was lodged close to a critical nerve, called the sigmoid sinus, which controls several brain functions. “We were reluctant to touch it initially because we were worried we would cause more damage. His ear and face nerves were already affected. But eventually we were successful and probably that is why the paralysis is improving, he can now open his right eye,” Dr Vaishya said.
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Hayder’s family has still not been able to put together the resources for his mother and aunt’s treatment. They have shrapnel lodged in their bodies and Hayder’s mother has lost movement of her right arm.The blast, his uncle Mohammad Haloob said, triggered another blast in the area.
“The ISIS is trying to enter Karbala to take control of the holy city, and our village is on the border of an area they have taken over. After the two blasts, most of the villagers have stopped going to the fields. We too never went to our fields, taken over by the militants now, after the blasts. Every time there is a blast they stake claim and the army and the Shia people are all helpless. We just hide in our homes,” said Mohammad.
He said the family thought they had seen the worst in 2010, when Hayder’s father was shot by American troops who mistook him for a terrorist. “The US army did night rounds, and once my brother had gone out to check on our cows in the shed. They shot him dead, and my younger brother who was with him was hit in the stomach. When they realised their mistake they took my brothers to an American hospital. My younger brother survived but Haider’s father died,” he said, via interpreter Forat Khalis Al Obaidi.
“The international media, including the Indian media, leave as and when their countrymen stranded in Iraq are brought back by their respective governments. But for us the war is getting worse, we are losing more and more, and there is nowhere to run. We bury our loved ones in the morning and then forget about them by evening because we have to worry about food and sustenance,” he said.
Mohammad said after northern Iraq, the ISIS is now moving towards middle and southern Iraq. “They want to create an Islamic republic so they are trying to reach Karbala, which is a holy city for Muslims. The army and Shia clerics are trying to put together a counter attack in the villages around the city, and we residents are caught in between,” he said.
Getting a visa to travel out of the country was Hayder’s treatment was become difficult, he said. “Getting visa to travel out is difficult, and we tried all the hospitals in the area but they could not remove the shrapnel from Hayder or his mother and aunt. We have spent close to Rs 8 lakh on Hayder’s treatment alone,” he said.
Hayder, who stopped going to school four months ago, said he wants to return to Iraq as soon as possible. “I want to go back home. I am an Iraqi, I am not scared of violence… and where else will I go? There are no nightmares about the blast, just relief that my head does not hurt. I don’t know what I want to do in life, for now it is about being alive,” he said. Hayder will go back with a souvenir from the hospital — the shrapnel that had been lodged in his brain for two months.