Skip to main content

Mutilated by war, Syrians get artificial legs -- and take steps toward healing

By Ivan Watson, Gul Tuysuz and Raja Razek
updated 6:25 AM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charity gives some Syrians a second chance at life
  • The National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs manufactures artificial legs
  • It also helps amputee victims train their bodies to walk on new limbs

Reyhanli, Turkey (CNN) -- The patients limp into a two-story house standing on the fringes of Syria's brutal conflict. They are victims whose bodies have been mutilated by the war.

But this charity is giving some Syrians a second chance at life. It is helping survivors take their first steps on the long road toward recovery.

Part workshop, part physical therapy clinic, the National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs manufactures artificial legs. It also helps amputee victims train their bodies to walk on these new limbs.

Among the patients here is Ahmed Mohammed, who gingerly takes his first steps on a new prosthetic leg.

Syria's starving communities need aid
Syrian refugee crisis 'getting worse'
Al Qaeda training Americans in Syria?

His left leg was blown off above the knee a year ago by an explosion in the battleground city of Aleppo. A network of purple scars riddle his right leg while he says he still has shrapnel lodged in the skin of his back.

Several Syrian technicians use screw drivers to adjust the knee joint of Mohammed's prosthesis as the patient tests the balance on the limb.

"They brought back hope. They brought back self esteem. They brought back life," Mohammed says, pointing at the young men who help him. "My life was a tragedy before I put this limb on."

It can take months of physical therapy and a succession of different prostheses before patients' bodies can adjust to walking on new limbs.

"The first and second limbs are temporary," said Raad al Masri, a Syrian who runs the prosthetic limb project. "The third or fourth become permanent."

Mohammed made the difficult, sometimes dangerous journey from Aleppo to this Turkish border town to try on this third generation of prosthetic limb.

The leg has allowed Mohammed to go back to his job as a metal worker. More importantly, he adds, "I can put my own son on my leg and pull him up, thank God."

Push to save Syria's lost generation
Syria's civil war within a civil war
Militant fighting in northen Syria

At the charity, craftsmen grind metal on lathes and sculpt, and bake plaster for new limbs.

Funded in large part by Syrian expatriates, the project's directors say it has provided limbs and therapy for free for more than 350 patients. The project is more affordable because technicians adopted the "Jaipur Leg," an artificial limb developed in India that is far cheaper than some other prosthetic models.

Among the young people working at the facility is Abdullah el Mawlah, a slender, red-haired teenager.

Mawlah is not just an employee. The 18-year old is also a victim of the war, and has his own prosthetic leg.

He says he was strafed with fire from an anti-aircraft gun a year ago as he and his family were traveling up a road in a pick-up truck.

The boy who once loved to play soccer says he ended up in a hospital bed in Turkey, begging to have his mangled leg amputated because of the pain.

Eventually, infection set in, and Mawlah says doctors removed his left leg above the knee.

The tall teen moves quickly with a slight limp, even climbing and descending stairs.

"Sometimes we receive patients who are completely destroyed emotionally," Mawlah says.

"I can give the patient answers because I have lived their lives. I tell them I have a prosthetic limb and thank God I am here to tell you that you can go on and continue your life like any normal person. Yes, you may not get back to exactly how you were before the injury, but you will be able to walk again."

Despite these brave words, Mawlah privately confesses to having doubts. He fears that no woman will ever want to marry a man mutilated by war.

This organization has gone a long way toward healing physical wounds left by the conflict.

The emotional and mental damage, however, may prove much harder to cure.

READ: U.S. announces $380 million in humanitarian assistance for Syria

READ: Nearly 700 killed in Syria rebel infighting

READ: Opinion: Syria's children suffer, and the world just shrugs

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 5:58 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT