I met Abbas and his mother Lela on my first day in the camp. This is his story.
Abbas suffered a spinal cord injury after rebels opened fire on his car in 2016.
Abbas lived and worked near Ramadi, Iraq, with his mother, Lela. Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003 Ramadi has been a centre of insurgency for many groups. In May 2015 Ramadi was lost to ISIS and, according to the UN, it has seen the worst destruction of anywhere in Iraq. A city reduced to rubble.
When Abbas’ car was hit, it spun and crashed, killing all the other passengers and damaged his spinal cord at T11, paralysing him from the waist down. After initial surgery in Iraq, Abbas had a metal rod implanted to fixate his spine. After 6 months this began to rub and became very infected, leaving him with a hole in his back and as a result, the rod was then removed. Abbas and his mother decided they needed to leave Iraq for their safety and for the medical care they could no longer receive, given the security situation at home.
In 2017 they began their journey to Europe, flying from Iraq to Turkey and making the rest of their journey by foot. It took 10 hours to walk to the coast, stopping and starting often, with friends and strangers helping push his wheelchair. In the forests of Turkey, Abbas had his wheelchair taken by the smugglers and sat for a day on the forest floor, before making the dangerous journey by boat across to the Greek Islands.
The boat journey lasted for seven hours and during this time Abbas was sat in one position, on a wooden board and unable to re-position himself due to his spinal-cord injury. They arrived on the Greek Island of Samos on 16th September 2017 and were arrested on arrival. There they were taken into custody and Abbas was left on the floor of a police cell for two days. From here they were transferred to a refugee camp. On arrival in the camp, after 4 days of sitting and being unable to change position, Abbas developed a grade 4 pressure sore on his right buttocks. This is an extremely deep and painful sore which he is still struggling with today, a year later.
Abbas remained in Samos a month. He was provided with a new wheelchair and, although he received some medical help, he says the conditions were poor and impossible to manage for someone needing disabled access. He reported it was so hilly that he could not get around and as a result was unable to access a bathroom for 15 days. As Abbas was identified as a more vulnerable patient, he was transferred to the mainland, to the camp at Diavata, on 20th October 2017. This is where he remains today.
On arrival in Diavata he was hopeful he would receive some physiotherapy and further medical care. However, he did not receive any therapy from the Greek health care system; the only rehabilitation input he received was from another volunteer Physiotherapist, Hannah, for a few weeks in July and after my arrival in September. Despite the severity of his injury, the Greek surgeons do not want to operate on his pressure sore. Instead, his mother Lela dresses it every two days and although she worries that she is not a nurse or medically trained, it says so much about their relationship, that it is as clean and in as good a condition as it is.
One of our volunteer doctors reviewed his pressure sore recently for me. The wound itself has a 5cm sinus and they believe he needs debridement under anaesthetic and will likely need a long period for recovery. Abbas is hopeful that soon he will have papers that allow him to seek asylum elsewhere in Europe, as he does not feel Greece is meeting his needs. As soon as he is able to travel onwards, I will ensure a letter of recommendation travels with him, in the hope that the next country can attend to his care more appropriately.
When I began my work with him, Abbas had not left the camp since he arrived a year ago and seldom ventured outside of his container. We have been having rehab three times a week to increase his muscle strength and wheelchair independence for when he is able to leave. He is now able to get to and from the doctor’s office to collect his wound dressings independently and we are beginning to tackle curbs and steps. The terrain is still difficult as it is very rocky but he is exceptionally motivated and amazingly strong, which makes my job easy.
Abbas’s main limitation to rehab and becoming more independent is his pressure sore. Due to the severity and location he is not able to sit out for long periods and tends to sit out only for an hour or two per day. This means that even though he is now strong enough to get about the camp, he is unable to attend any of the language classes put on as he cannot physically sit in his wheelchair for the required amount of time. On his wheelchair he has a thin, foam cushion that he and his mother cut to size themselves and this offers nothing in the way of pressure relief for his sacrum.
He spends the rest of the day repositioning himself in bed but his mattress is equally poor. It is the same thin foam, positioned on top of some cardboard, perhaps explaining why his wound is refusing to heal.
Although ultimately Abbas will require surgery, having a suitable pressure-relieving cushion to sit out on would completely change his day to day function. He will be able to sit out more, get out more and maybe even attend language classes, in the hope that one day he will be able to make a home here in Europe.
Abbas and Lela have particularly touched me whilst I have been in Greece. They have the most beautiful relationship, which is difficult to put into words, although this image captures a tiny glimpse of it.
I want to be able to help them as much as possible whilst I am here and once they move on. An appropriate wheelchair cushion will cost between £100-300. Although getting a mattress, too, would be preferable, it would be better to purchase that once they are settled in their new country, which hopefully won’t be too long now.
If this story affects anyone in the way that it does me, then please donate to my just giving page and we can purchase a cushion for his wheelchair. For anyone wishing to help further, if you donate to my just giving page and comment ‘Abbas’, along with any other comments, I will ensure that 100% of the donations are passed onto him and Lela. This is in the hope that when they finally get a new home, two years after fleeing Iraq, they will be able to purchase anything they need for Abbas’s ongoing care.