Nada Ali was only nine months old when bombs landed near her home in Baghdad and changed her life for ever.
The devastating blasts in 2004, during fighting in the Iraqi capital, left her completely deaf.
“It was as if someone switched her from 'on' to 'off',” said Nada’s father, Ali Mohammed, describing the aftermath of the explosions.
Expert medical care in the UAE helped to partially restore her hearing – she became the first Arab child to receive cochlear implants – and enabled Nada to enjoy a full education.
But in the 17 years since Baghdad, the numerous treatments were unable to fully restore her hearing.
That was until Nada, 18, received a new implant that, she says, has changed her life completely.
The Dh85,000 ($23,145) Nucleus 7 sound processor – funded by Make-A-Wish Foundation through donations raised in the UAE – means she now hears sounds she had never heard before.
“When they put it in my ear, immediately I started feeling a lot of changes and hearing a lot of strange sounds that I have never heard in my life,” Nada said.
“My dad’s voice was very close to my ear and for the first time I heard it clearly.
“I told him I just wanted to keep walking a little bit outside. Although it was very hot, this was the first time I was hearing the birds’ voices. It was really magical.”
Everyday sounds, like water pouring from a tap and air blowing from an air-conditioning unit, bring her unexpected joy, as does the sound of her own voice.
“I used to hear it differently before. It wasn’t that clear and there were some words that I could not properly pronounce,” Nada said.
But it is in her dentistry studies at the University of Sharjah – she is in her second year – where she says the restoration of her hearing has transformed her life.
“Now when I attend lab class I can hear every single word the professor says,” Nada said.
“Before I used to miss some words and it was a big struggle for me because every single word he says is important.”
She used to record the sessions so she could listen to them closely at home afterwards.
“Now I literally don’t need it,” she said. “It used to consume so much time.”
She has a new appreciation for music, the lyrics to songs and the sound of a piano.
“There is a song called You and I that I could not hear the music playing in the background before, I just heard the lyrics.”
UAE's support for Nada
Mr Mohammed, 54, said the family noticed something different straight away, after the bombs struck.
“The doors were knocked down [from the bombs], and her tendons were torn,” Mr Mohammed said.
“We lived in what was known as the Officers’ City because my father was a major general in the army and my grandfather used to be chief of staff, and our area was heavily targeted.
“I am not sure when she lost her hearing exactly, but her mother and I noticed the difference."
At the time, UAE relief missions set up the Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Baghdad, and she was taken there for treatment.
But it was impossible to perform a cochlear implant in Iraq at the time.
“So they flew her and her mother in a military jet to Abu Dhabi to perform the procedure – they did not even have passports on them,” Mr Mohammed said.
The implant procedure was completed at the Zayed Military Hospital by a doctor who flew from Germany.
“She was first Arab child to receive a cochlear implant; the press wrote about it then,” he said.
Two months later, Nada and her mother returned to Iraq where they were told that she would need to attend regular programming sessions with a specialist every seven months to develop her hearing and speech skills.
“We realised that we had to move to Abu Dhabi because the programming was only available in Australia and the UAE,” Mr Mohammed said
Four months later, the family moved to Abu Dhabi where both parents found work.
“I used to be an engineer, but I managed to find a job at a maintenance company, and her mother is a gynaecologist and she found a job in her field.”
Make a wish come true
Up until fifth grade, Nada was equipped with a hearing device that came with a bag that she had to wear all the time.
“I had to wear it like a backpack and it was annoying for me. I was a kid and I wanted to run and play, but my mother didn’t let me play in case any damage happened to my head or the device itself,” Nada said.
“It was a difficult time for me but I could hear good.
“My parents struggled to help me learn and I had a trainer to help me speak – without him I couldn’t speak.”
Nada then shifted to smaller cochlear devices and upgraded to newer versions every few years.
“The Aounak health insurance card used to cover the costs of those devices,” Mr Mohammed said.
“But when we needed to upgrade to the N7 they had stopped covering it.”
Make-A-Wish Foundation stepped in and collected donations to cover the cost of the device through a campaign on Abu Dhabi’s Quran Kareem FM.
“The Covid-19 pandemic delayed granting Nada her wish last year, but that did not stop her from finishing her high school and entering medical school,” the foundation said.
“And today we made her wish come true so she can pursue her dreams without any obstacles.”