Artificial limbs offer Syrians new chances at life

Every time 3-year-old Seif wears his new prosthetic legs, the toddler puts up a fight. He has already made peace with walking on his stumps, but there is no dodging his daily rehabilitation session at a prosthetic clinic in southern Turkey.

In a small clinic in the dusty border town of Reyhanli, dozens of wounded Syrians stream per month come to be fitted with prosthetic limbs, their best shot at restoring a semblance of a normal life.

Treatment at the clinic is free and only for Syrian civilians and fighters who have lost body parts in the Syrian conflict. Workers at the clinic manufacture prosthetic body parts while patients are in therapy.

Seif, whose last name was not disclosed, was riding in the back seat of a car in the Syrian city of Aleppo in February, when a rocket struck the car blowing off his two legs and the leg of his older brother. Their parents, who were sitting in the front, survived with minor injuries.

The family recently crossed into Turkey so that the brothers could be fitted with artificial limbs at the National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs (NSPPL), a Syrian-run venture supported by three agencies: Syria Relief, SEMA, and Every Syrian.

"The number of wounded people is growing", says Raed al-Masri, who has been running the clinic since it opened in February 2013. He's unsure what is causing the spike in numbers.

"Perhaps it is the Russian bombing or maybe people have become more aware of the center," he told AP. By his count, more than 50,000 Syrians are amputees in need of treatment. The clinic works on an average of 100 cases per month.

The technicians working at the clinic are all Syrian refugees. They largely learned their craft on the go but training has brought personnel up to European standards, al-Masri said.

It takes about five days to manufacture a limb, test it and fit it on a patient. The rehabilitation process can stretch from one week to several months depending on the condition and morale of the patient.

"People who have prosthetic limbs are in a very difficult psychological state, so what about the people who have no limbs, or have a handicap?" al-Masri said. "They are in a different category, in an even more difficult state."

Those in the clinic are the lucky ones and, generally, they know it. Ahmed Abdullah, a 30-year-old rebel who lost both legs in 2012 while fighting against the Assad regime, says his life was transformed after being fitted with artificial limbs.

"Before I had a prosthetic limb, I would get annoyed sometimes because I couldn't get things for myself," said the lightly bearded former fighter. "I would need my brother or sister to get it for me. After... my life became — I can't say 100 percent — but 90 to 95 percent good."

For Seif, who comes to the clinic dressed in prim shorts and shirt, the transition is impossible to put into words. The routine starts with tears but ends in a burst of laughter as he takes his first steps with the help of his mother. "He's happier," she says.