Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Palestinian boy with brittle bones recovering in Dubai after successful surgery

Little Wings charity and Al Jalila Foundation are helping Muayad Al Arjani, 12, who has the congenital condition

Muayad Al Arjani, 12, from Gaza, was flown to Dubai to have surgery for brittle bone disease. Reem Mohammed / The National
Muayad Al Arjani, 12, from Gaza, was flown to Dubai to have surgery for brittle bone disease. Reem Mohammed / The National

A Palestinian schoolboy is recovering in Dubai after a five-hour operation to repair severe deformities in his legs that confine him to a wheelchair.

Muayad Al Arjani, 12, has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, better known as brittle bones disease, and is unable to stand or walk without his legs breaking.

Life has been a struggle for the Gazan who now looks to have a brighter future thanks to the UK-based Little Wings charity and Dubai's Al Jalila Foundation.

Doctors from the UK had flown to Palestine in the hope of changing lives, which is what they hope to achieve after the success of the first of two complex operations to strengthen the boy’s lower limbs.

“It was a long surgery, and a struggle because of the complexity of the deformity in his legs,” said Dr Marc Sinclair, an orthopaedic surgeon at King’s College Hospital London. Dr Sinclair performed the surgery in Dubai on Saturday after having brought Muayad here for treatment, due to a lack of facilities in Gaza.

“Everything went well and the leg is straight now in a cast. He lost some blood, so needed a transfusion.

“Muayad is very resilient. These kids do not tend to show any weakness because of the tough life they have.”

Plagued by the genetic disorder since birth, Muayad’s legs have been deformed due to repeated fractures and a lack of corrective treatment in Palestine.

Surgeons inserted two telescopic steel rods into the bone marrow, which will extend as Muayad grows.

He may be unable to walk as freely as his friends, but the surgery and external braces will allow him to become more independent by using a walker at home, freeing him from his wheelchair.

A second operation is planned in three weeks, after he has recovered.

Doctors cut the bones in his legs in several places to straighten them by inserting rods. Bisphosphonate medication will help strengthen his bones once they have healed, preventing further fractures.

It has been a challenging 12 years for Muayad’s mother Mona Al Tarabeen, raising five daughters and two brothers in war-torn Gaza.

Another son Yaseen, now 26, also has the genetic condition, but is considered too old for a similar corrective surgery.

Muayad and his mother Mona at King’s College Hospital in Dubai. Reem Mohammed / The National
Muayad and his mother Mona at King’s College Hospital in Dubai. Reem Mohammed / The National

“It was very difficult to find the treatment for Muayad, and also to find the right equipment for him,” she said.

“We knew accepting surgery in our country is not always possible, or successful.

“It was difficult to carry him all the time, as I had to stay with him 24 hours a day.

“I was unable to go out or go somewhere without him. I could not leave Muayad with the youngest siblings, they can’t help him if he needs something.”

In 2018, Ms Al Tarabeen met Dr Sinclair and the Little Wings Foundation in Rafah, southern Gaza, to discuss her son’s options.

When Dr Sinclair suggested bringing him to the UAE for treatment, the family were overjoyed.

"I hope one day Muayad can walk like other children and have a normal life so he can study and live his life,” said Ms Al Tarabeen.

I hope one day Muayad can walk like other children and have a normal life so he can study and live his life

Muayad's mother, Mona

The Little Wings Foundation was founded in 2007 by Dr Sinclair, with a mission to provide medical assistance to children who have musculoskeletal deformities in the Middle East and North Africa.

The foundation is run by volunteers, and partnered with the UAE’s Al Jalila Foundation in 2018, to help facilitate expensive treatments.

Expensive surgeries are out of reach for many in the region, and rarely covered under basic UAE insurance plans.

Brittle bone disease occurs in about one in 20,000 people, with varying severity, but is more common in children of related parents.

The condition is a result of a lack of connective tissue and low type one collagen due to a genetic mutation.

Dr Sinclair, who has performed more than 500 similar operations, is working alongside the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund to offer free medical support for youngsters.

“Few insurance companies cover congenital malformations corrections,” said Dr Sinclair.

“Low to mid-income people cannot always access relevant insurance cover, so have no place to go.

“Parents who do not have adequate insurance cover are often forced to take their children home to the Philippines or India for cheaper treatment.

“It is incredible to see how resourceful many of these families are when they have nothing.”

Updated: April 15, 2019 01:19 PM

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