When Munira Abdulla fetched her son Omar, 4, from school and began the drive to their Al Ain home in 1991, she could not have known she would not see him again for 27 years.
Their vehicle collided with a school bus, leaving Ms Abdulla with a serious brain injury. Omar – cradled by his mother before the impact – escaped with a bruise to the head.
Ms Abdulla, 32 at the time, was left in a coma and doctors believed she would probably never open her eyes again. That was until last year, when she regained consciousness in a German hospital room.
Her family spoke exclusively to The National about their ordeal for the first time, describing a modern-day miracle, and how she has woken to a quite different world.
“I never gave up on her because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up,” said her son Omar Webair, 32.
When visited in hospital, Ms Abdulla was able to answer questions, albeit with difficulty, and recited verses from the Quran. She recently visited Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which had not been built when she was injured, accompanied by The National.
“I was four when the accident happened, and we used to live in Al Ain,” Mr Webair said.
“That day, there was no bus at the school to take me home.”
At about 4pm, his mother, driven by her brother-in-law, picked up young Omar.
“My mother was sitting with me in the back seat. When she saw the crash coming she hugged me to protect me from the blow,” Mr Webair said.
He walked away from the accident, but was left in despair as his mother waited for help.
“There were no mobile phones and we could not call an ambulance. She was left like that for hours,” he said.
Ms Abdulla was taken to hospital, from where she was transferred to one in London. She was completely unresponsive, with next to no awareness of her surroundings. Doctors diagnosed a minimally conscious state. She was moved to a hospital in Al Ain, where she would remain for the next few years. Tube-fed, she underwent physiotherapy to prevent her muscles deteriorating.
Visits to his mother became part of Mr Webair’s daily routine. He would walk several kilometres to see her and would sit with her for hours. Although she could not speak, Mr Webair said he could tell from her expressions whether or not she was in pain.
“To me she was like gold; the more time passed by, the more valuable she became,” he said.
The situation made it difficult for Mr Webair to hold down a job, but he always managed to spend time by her side.
“I never regretted it. I believe that, because of my support for her, God saved me from bigger troubles.”
Ms Abdulla spent years in hospitals in the UAE, moving from place to place because of insurance constraints. In April 2017, the Crown Prince Court heard about her story and gave the family a grant for a comprehensive multidisciplinary programme in Germany.
“We did not even ask for the grant. I am grateful to Sheikh Mohamed [bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi] for that. Our leaders are always supportive in such situations and we are thankful for it.”
In Germany, Ms Abdulla had surgery to treat weakened limb muscles. Doctors at Schoen Clinic in Bad Aibling, about 50 kilometres south-east of Munich, prioritised physical therapy and controlling her epilepsy.
Dr Ahmad Ryll, Ms Abdulla’s neurologist in Germany, said: “Our primary goal was to grant her fragile consciousness the opportunity to develop and prosper in a healthy body, like a delicate plant that needs good soil to grow.”
She seemed to gain awareness of the people around her.
Mr Webair said: “I told the doctors I was expecting her to start talking again and they told me ‘you are running wild with your imagination. We are only doing rehabilitation to fix her quality of life’.”
Last June, during Ms Abdulla’s final week in Germany, the unexpected happened.
“There was a misunderstanding in the hospital room and she sensed I was at risk, which caused her a shock,” Mr Webair said. He had been involved in an argument at his mother’s bedside when she began to stir.
“She was making strange sounds and I kept calling the doctors to examine her,” Mr Webair said. “They said everything was normal.
“Then, three days later, I woke up to the sound of someone calling my name.
“It was her. She was calling my name. I was flying with joy. For years I have dreamt of this moment, and my name was the first word she said.”
Ms Abdulla called her siblings’ names “and everybody who she expected to be around her. When she was screaming it was like she was reliving the accident and then woke up.”
Over time, Ms Abdulla became more responsive.
“Now she can tell us where she is feeling pain, and I can have conversations with her if she is interested in the topic,” Mr Webair said. “She sometimes wakes me up to recite prayers with her. She would give me the topic and once I start with the prayer she continues the lines.”
Ms Abdulla continues to receive treatment in Abu Dhabi.
A report from Mafraq Hospital last month stated that she is “currently able to communicate in a very reasonable manner, especially in familiar situations”.
“I shared her story to tell people not to lose hope on their loved ones,” Mr Webair said. “Don’t consider them dead when they are in such a state.
“All those years, the doctors told me she was a hopeless case and that there was no point of the treatment I was seeking for her, but whenever in doubt I put myself in her place and did whatever I could to improve her condition.”