A terribly burned Syrian toddler has finally been reunited with her mother and siblings six months after being rushed to Turkey for emergency medical treatment.
The plight of Dalal, who is not yet two years old, touched people and doctors around the world as she struggled to stay alive after suffering horrific burns to most of her body.
Warning: This story contains descriptions and images of a child who has suffered extensive burns
Her elder sister Yasmin was killed in the same fire trying to save her, but her parents and four other siblings managed to get out alive.
Baby Dalal was rushed over the border to Turkey as a special case – another of the millions of child victims of the country’s long-running war. She was just beginning her long battle to survive.
The Sky News reports charting Dalal’s fight for life prompted strangers to raise thousands of pounds for her after a crowdfunding page was set up by a single mother from Surrey in England.
Turkish medics spent months freely giving their time and expertise to try to rebuild her battered and burned body with multiple surgical operations.
They told us she’d come back from the brink of death at least three times. They called her their miracle baby.
Dozens of doctors and hospitals from around the world got in touch with Sky to offer their help and pool knowledge.
We put them in touch with the Turkish surgical team and they set up a social media group exchanging expertise and offering advice via Facetime as the little girl clung to life and defied the odds time and time again.
The toddler had lost her hair, eyelids, nose, ears and lips in the fire. Her arms, legs and body were all badly hurt; her lungs were burned; her throat and windpipe were all badly affected.
It was a monumental effort by the medical teams led from the start by Dr Cagatay Demirci at Mersin City Hospital. Then he gave the baby a 10% chance of surviving.
But he and his team embarked on a series of complicated operations grafting skin and rebuilding her lips and eyelids. He was forced to amputate both her hands but they saved her life and by May, she was being discharged.
Once that emergency treatment was complete, Dalal faced being returned to Syria and life in a refugee camp where her doctors feared she’d be especially prone to infections and was unlikely to survive.
But the kindness of strangers along with the decision by the Turkish authorities (following a detailed medical report from the Mersin doctors) to allow her temporary refuge in the country for medical treatment gave her another lease of life.
Turkey has already taken in around four million refugees from Syria who’ve fled the bombing and shelling there. There is an anxiousness about accepting any more and the impact their residence in the country will have on an already stretched economy.
The funds raised by donors in the UK meant Dalal and her father Abdul Fatah were able to rent a modest flat in Mersin near the hospital. The money was also used to help buy the family passports in the hope they too would be granted permission to join them in safety in Turkey.
We were there on the Turkish Syrian border as Dalal’s mother Fatima and her four older siblings finally crossed over and the family was able to have its first face-to-face reunion in six months. The whole family was in tears. It has been a very long stressful period apart.
Earlier that same day, Dalal had her first out-patient laser treatment to try to soften and ease her still tender, raw and tightening skin.
The treatment in Gaziantep was organised through the charity INARA after funds were donated by a wealthy family Foundation also moved by seeing Dalal’s story on Sky News. It will help fund the immediate medical treatment she now desperately needs – but this little girl faces years, possibly a decade of interventions ahead.
The little toddler is now very mobile, anxious to move and walk and feed herself by grasping glasses between her amputated arms. The doctors are trying to prep her for the first substantial reconstructive surgery later this year.
They’re hoping they’ll be able to rebuild at least some of her fingers to enable her to have pinch mobility which could aid her in later life.
The more sophisticated facial reconstruction – creating ears for her, rebuilding her nose, cheeks and mouth will be long, elaborate and probably only possible once the little girl is a bit older.
She will need work on her eyes very soon if she’s to continue to have vision as the skin is growing so rapidly over them she has to tilt her head backwards to peek out.
But despite her age and her considerable health challenges, Dalal is clearly a feisty personality with bags of energy and considerable fight in her. The medical staff were captivated by her zest for life as she dutifully danced on her feet at her father’s urgings and was mesmerised by the balloons they blew up for her.
The laser treatment was painful. She screamed and cried until they anaesthetised her so they were able to work on her red-raw skin, smoothing it out with firm, deliberate strokes, each of which must have caused searing pain.
But hours later, she was in the arms of her siblings and mother, being passed around her elder sisters who seemed oblivious to her obvious physical scars. To her, she is the much-loved baby sister they have missed so much.
The family are now all together again, living in the same home and the children are finally under a roof in a safe place for the first time in their lives.
And the family will soon be growing. Dalal’s mother is heavily pregnant and due to give birth any day now. That baby will be much welcomed – and the first of their children born in peaceful surroundings.