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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

British generosity on show as £80k raised for Syrian child's spinal surgery

A Syrian teenager is to be given life-saving surgery thanks to the generosity of the British public.

Najib Ali arrived in the UK for his surgery this week. Courtesy Goodwill Caravan
Najib Ali arrived in the UK for his surgery this week. Courtesy Goodwill Caravan

Declared dead after a missile struck his Syrian home, the body of Najib Ali was being prepared for burial when his mother touched his ankle in a final gesture of farewell and detected a faint pulse.

Extensive surgery in Syria saved the life of the ten-year-old boy, but the shrapnel embedded in his spine from the attack near Homs left him in agony, unable to walk and suffering from kidney failure.

Five years on from the attack and after an epic journey for treatment, the teenager is set for treatment in the UK that could save his damaged organs and lead the way to a tiny chance that he could walk again.

Najib and his mother have come a long way since the 2013 bombing. Courtesy Goodwill Caravan
Najib and his mother have come a long way since the 2013 bombing. Courtesy Goodwill Caravan

His parent's extraordinary dedication saw them push Najib, now aged 14, in a wheelchair from Syria, through Turkey and into Greece for medical help.

In Greece, where Najib, his parents and two brothers were given refugee status, the family were told 18 months ago that he needed spinal reconstruction surgery.

"Najib couldn't be helped in Greece because the rehabilitation services there only had one consultant on the ward and they didn't have a space for him," Hanan Ashegh, founder of Goodwill Caravan, the charity helping Najib, told The National.

“It's been an uphill battle, like climbing a mountain,” said Ms Asegh, citing the bureaucratic obstacles faced by refugees in securing treatment.

Through a crowd-funding appeal, Britons donated between £5 and £500 per month for his care and journey to London's specialist children’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for six hours of reconstructive surgery.

The appeal has raised £78,000 for Najib’s care since 2017 and his surgeon Dr Ramesh Nadarajah has waived his fee for the operation this Thursday.

Najib will undergo his operation on Thursday. Courtesy Goodwill Caravan
Najib will undergo his operation on Thursday. Courtesy Goodwill Caravan

“What I intend to do is straighten out his spine as much as I can and level his pelvis,” Dr Nadarajah said at a consultation with Najib witnessed by Sky News.

“I will put screws into the bony part of his spine and interconnect it with two long rods and that straightens out the spine quite a lot.”

Following the surgery, Najib will remain at GOSH for 15 days then move to a specialist spinal cord injury unit for another eight weeks for rehabilitation.

He will then be flown back to Greece and await approval for an experimental surgery in Poland which his family hope will give him the ability to walk again.

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The surgery has a one per cent success rate, but the family are willing to try anything to help him recover.

Despite raising enough funds for Najib's initial surgery, the charity is now looking for further funding for his post-operative care. The charity needs £30,000 for two months of private rehabilitation.

Goodwill Caravan mainly works with some of the 2,500 orphaned or unaccompanied refugee children in Greece, many of whom are detained in prisons and detention centres, supposedly for their safety.

It raises money for the children’s legal fees and to protect them from human traffickers and sexual abuse.