Nebal Hani al Shamali appears to be like any typical 6 year old: running around, full of energy and a gap-toothed smile that extends ear to ear.
But the 6 year old Middle Eastern girl barely made it out of her country before the riots started, on a pilgrimage to the United States for treatment due to an accident that left her lower body covered in burns and scars.
Through a translator at the Nassau County Tuesday afternoon, Nebal’s mother described the “worst day” of her life where in January 2009 Nebal became frightened when bombs began falling around her village of Rafah, near the Egyptian border, and ran into a tea kettle, spilling the scalding hot water all over herself.
Nabal had sustained fourth degree burns extending down to the bone. The extent of the injuries were so extreme, doctors said Nabal would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and trying to scratch out her wounds.
Hearing of her plight, physicians from Doctors Without Borders reached out to Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund who in turn contacted Mission: Restore, a Long Island-based non profit to send a pair of physicians to Palestine for help. The doctors were originally scheduled to depart, but reportedly could not obtain visas.
Instead, Nabal and her family decided to travel to the United States for treatment. Because of the remoteness of their village, there are only two ways to reach it: one through Israel, and the other through Egypt. The family traveled for six days through the current occupied territories in Palestine in order to get to the United States, making it out of Egypt just days before the border was closed because of the riots and protests.
Known as the Rafah Corridor, the passageway has been closed for the past three weeks, only reopening Tuesday. Nabal and her family had been in the United States for the last week and a half with essentially no way of going home until Tuesday.
“This is a truly global effort to bring together a number of different organizations to help little Nebal get here,” Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group said.
Upon their arrival, the family were housed with a sponsor home in South Nassau while Nabal underwent treatment at South Nassau Communities Hospital on Feb. 4, consisting of numerous skin grafts.
Together with Dr. Roger Simpson who runs the Burn Unit at with Alizadeh, and Nurse Lynn Bert of South Nassau, the surgeons honored Nabal’s mother’s request to reduce the scars on her daughter’s legs.
“She’s phenomenal as most children are,” Alizadeh said. “The objective of our group... is to show that there still is American good will and expertise that can be shared with the rest of the world.”
Nabal’s transportation to and from the United States was paid for by Mission: Restore and her medical care from the surgeons were performed pro bono.
Recognizing the surgeons’ work, County Executive Ed Mangano presented them with proclamations, calling them people “who really made a big big difference in Nabal’s life.”
Holding the young girl’s hand during the press conference Mangano said “to spend some time with her is to really have some joy in your life,” and when it comes to medical care, “sometimes these are things that we take for granted here.”
Nabal and her family will be staying for approximately another week before returning home.