The entire family ― Yaman’s mother and father, and two sisters ― learned they had also contracted the illness. Meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, can be deadly without proper treatment, and Madaya lacked medical supplies or equipment.
Again, luck played a role. On Thursday, The Syrian Arab Red Crescent transported the family to Damascus, where they have reunited with Yaman and are receiving care, according to Syrian doctor Mohamed Darwich, who has been treating the family since Yaman was diagnosed.
“We are just so happy,” said Yaman’s mother, Khawalah Jabir. “We feel at ease now.”
Khawalah Jabir, a Syrian mother of three, contracted meningitis from her son Yaman.
The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful for the family. Jabir was not allowed to travel to Damascus with young Yaman due to limited capacity, and had no contact with him while they were separated. Dealing with her family’s illness, as well as her own, left Jabir at her wits’ end.
“I didn’t know if I had any more hope left,” she said.
But then the Ezzedine family, among others, found out they were being evacuated from their besieged town, which suffers from severe food and medical shortages. Their relatives in the United States rejoiced at the news and now say they feel inspired to direct their careers toward medicine.
“I am just so emotional,” said Yousif Jabir, Khawalah’s brother, who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “My kids were crying every day, feeling helpless. Now they’re more determined to go to medical school after hearing about the whole ordeal.”
Khawalah is one of 11 siblings in the Jabir family, all of whom were raised in Syria. She and her brother remained close even after he moved to the United States with his three children.
“At first, it was just me keeping in touch,” Yousif Jabir said. “But now, after all this, the kids are more determined to ask about their cousin Yaman and the rest of the family.” They plan on keeping in touch through photographs, videos and other forms of multimedia as often as possible.
Meanwhile, the Ezzedine family does not plan to return to Madaya, but to move in with Yaman’s paternal grandparents in Baramkeh, Damascus.
Not many families are so fortunate. Madaya continues to be under siege by the Syrian regime, forcing an estimated 40,000 residents to suffer from food and supply shortages. The town, just an hour’s drive from Damascus, first came to global attention in January when images of emaciated residents, including many children, emerged. The international outcry forced the government to allow food and medicine in, but the aid proved to be minimal. Reports indicate that residents are still dying from malnutrition, starvation and preventable diseases.
Darwich worries that more Madaya residents may already be infected with meningitis but are not displaying symptoms because the virus or bacteria is still in its incubation phase.
“Evacuating patients is not the fundamental solution,” Darwich said. “We need more than evacuations. We need aid. We need food. The main problem is the siege not allowing these things to enter and that causes for people to get sick.”
Darwich says a lot more needs to be done for residents still trapped inside the town, but that he’s happy for the Ezzedine family.
Said Jabir from a hospital in Damascus: “I feel like I’m dreaming.”
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