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21 Jan 19
Jennifer TongJennifer TongHong Kong ChineseSurgeonOccupied Palestinian Territory

Gaza: Helping Sunny Boy walk again

Jennifer Tong, a Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) surgeon from Hong Kong, shares the story of Sunny Boy – a young Palestinian she helped recover from a gunshot wound.

There is an 18-year-old boy who I call “Sunny Boy”.

He always comes to the Al-Awda hospital in northern Gaza wearing the same black T-shirt printed with the words ‘Sunny Boy’. And his smile seems to get wider every time I see him. 

Sunny Boy is an orphan who grew up in an orphanage in sub-optimal conditions.

His teeth are not healthy. His two front teeth are brown in colour and half-chipped. Dental care is provided privately in the Gaza Strip and it is expensive for ordinary people.

Daily struggles

Israel tightly controls the import of fuel and other essential goods into the Gaza Strip.

There is a shortage of electricity, which is supplied by Israel, with a maximum of four to five hours per day.

Residents there do not have enough clean drinking water, and the water they receive is too polluted with salt and sewage. The water tanker comes in every three to four days, and people come with buckets and bottles to fetch water home.

This scene reminds me of the time when Hong Kong faced a water shortage in the 1960s.

In those days, fresh water was supplied once every four days, four hours each time. Hong Kong people took bottles in various sizes to fetch water.

Fifty years later, we in Hong Kong enjoy access to running water, yet in Gaza, it is a daily struggle for the population to have clean water.

Gunshot wounds

Sunny Boy participated in a demonstration at the northern fence dividing Israel and the Palestinian territory on Friday, 13 July. He was shot during the event.

He sustained an open fracture on his left ring finger, a gunshot wound on his right thigh, and a 10-cm wound on this left thigh which cut through his deep muscle.

We immediately performed wound debridement surgery – the removal of damaged tissue – for Sunny Boy in the operating room.

As his left thigh wound was large and deep, we recommended that he come to our outpatient clinic for wound dressing every other day to reduce the risk of bacterial infection. 

Learning to walk

I still remember clearly what happened during the first wound dressing session.

Sunny Boy sustained no fractures from the injury and should have been able to walk with a walking aid. However, he was so afraid to see his wound.

He was so nervous that he dared not move and insisted on lying in bed. He asked his two orphan friends to lift him from the bed onto the wheelchair.

As an orthopaedic surgeon, my objective is to encourage patients to walk as early as possible, so they can gradually be self-reliant.

On that day, I asked Sunny Boy to walk on his own from the bed to the wheelchair. The wheelchair was two metres away, which could be reached by walking seven steps. I requested his two friends to stand aside and encourage him. Of course, medics were standing by to offer him protection in case he would fall.

After some encouragement, Sunny Boy slowly and reluctantly took his first step. It took him five minutes to complete the task and reach the wheelchair!

The friendship between Sunny Boy and I began with this challenge.

Triumphant return

Two days later, Sunny Boy came to the clinic by himself. I was so proud of him, it was like a triumphant return of my son!

Even if he still felt pain, with very time-consuming wound care, and although he could not take a shower by himself because of his many bandages… I saw a smile on his face.

From then on, whenever he comes to our clinic, he asks me to check on the wound on his left thigh. He then asks for a tongue depressor with cream on, so that he could moisturise the other wounds himself. 

Sunny Boy is a cheerful young man full of positive energy!

Even though the road ahead is uncertain, and his life may be full of thorns, he will always keep the smile and face the challenges positively.

“Go, Sunny Boy! You can do it! Keep going!”

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