It was a picture seen around the world. Eight year old Maya Merhi, born with no legs, moving through a Syrian refugee camp on artificial limbs fashioned out of tins and plastic tubing.
Following the outpouring of global sympathy prompted by the image, the girl is now set to undergo surgery in Turkey to give her proper prosthetic legs. Dr Mehmet Zeki Culcu, the prosthetics specialist treating her, has declined all donations and will be funding the surgery out of his own pocket.
Her father, Mohammad Merhi, 34, who shares the same congenital amputation, could not bear to see his daughter struggle following a previous surgery that made her legs even shorter: ‘My heart suffers when I see her crawling in front of friends, while they play and run’, he said.
‘After the operation, she was not able to move around and was sitting the whole time in a tent…In order for her to move out of the tent, I had the idea to fix on her limbs tubing, stuffed with a spongy material to reduce the pressure.
‘Then, I added two empty cans of tuna because the plastic was not strong enough to resist the friction with the ground.’
With the makeshift prosthetics, Maya was able to leave the tent and even attend the school in the refugee camp. Her father, who was forced to flee their Aleppo home with Maya and her five siblings, said he replaced the plastic tubing once a month and the tins once a week.
Above: British charities like Syria Relief are giving hope to thousands of injured young Syrians – you can find out more about their work, and donate to the National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs, here.
When images of Maya spread across media outlets, the Turkish Red Crescent, the country’s largest humanitarian organisation, arranged for Maya and her father to visit a specialised clinic in Istanbul.
Dr Culcu, who said he had been ‘very touched’ by the photos, is confident Maya will be able to walk in the months following the surgery. He thinks she will even benefit from her father’s impromptu prosthetics, as they have accustomed her to walking.
‘It’s a kind of makeshift system for her to walk. With the energy of desperation, without any means, her father turned that suffering into hope.’
Her father’s hope has inspired Dr Culcu to fund the surgery himself: ‘We have been contacted by people all over the world who want to make the donation. But this issue is closed and I will take on the cost.’
Mr Merhi will also be given prosthetic legs in Turkey, but his primary concern is his daughter.
‘It’s more important that she can walk so that she is autonomous. It would be like a new life for us,’ he said. ‘I dream of seeing her walk, going to school and back without suffering.’
Featured image credit: AFP