At the age of eleven Fathima Dania has had to undergo more surgeries than most people would in a lifetime.
She was born with Arthrogryposis, a condition that makes her muscles contract and limbs curve, but Fathima’s mother - who is her daughter’s namesake - says her pregnancy was troubled from the start.
“During my six months’ scan doctors noticed there were complications,” says Mrs Fathima.
Doctors said her amniotic fluid level was low and the scan showed that the baby had physical deformities.
Mrs Fathima was advised to deliver her daughter back home in Sri Lanka because she had no health insurance.
Her daughter was born a month later in Sri Lanka, on May 24, 2006, a year after the family moved to Dubai.
“She looked like a frozen chicken. Her hands were stuck together and her legs were bent upwards” says Mrs Fathima.
The girl had deformed arms and legs and no muscle strength. She has since needed multiple surgeries to straighten her arms and legs and open her palms which were clamped shut.
The surgeries have put a strain on the family both emotionally and financially.
Mrs Fathima returned to UAE a month after her daughter was born but had to frequently travel between the two countries so Fathima can undergo surgery to help her perform the simplest tasks.
The family has been forced to take out loans and borrow money from family and friends to keep up her treatment that has helped her become more mobile.
“At that time I could never think that she would walk so soon. A lot of hard work and treatment has meant she stands on her feet now,” says Mrs Fathima. But the treatments have also meant that the family has accumulated so much debt that they were forced to send their daughter and two boys back to Sri Lanka to live with her mother, whom they also support financially.
“My daughter is a cute 11-year-old, she has a spirit that is as cheerful and effervescent as other children of her age,” says Mrs Fathima.
“Though she has multiple problems, it is apparent that she makes a conscious effort to come across as a normal child. From age of five she had to go through several operations in and out side Dubai.
“She just wants to be around people and live a normal life like other kids. And she wants to be beautiful, pretty ... she says to me, ‘Why do I have to have scars, I’m ugly’. But she is beautiful. She’s a happy child and always a gift for me from Allah, I want to give the best treatment and make her successful in her life,” she says.
Mrs Fathima and her husband have borrowed some Dh100,000 to pay for their daughter’s treatment. They are now unable to afford school fees for Fathima who her mother says asks her when she can go back to school every day.
“Schools wouldn’t accept Fathima because she required a wheelchair and the one school that did required fees that were too high for me,” her mother says.
“My dream is to send my children to school and lead a normal life. I’m really frustrated. Her friends come almost every day asking when Fathima will come back to school.”
Her mother is now struggling to be parted from Fathima and worries her daughter’s progress will be hampered by their separation. “She needs me. I was the only person doing her physiotherapy, taking her to the doctor and following up with her treatment.”
Fathima’s parents have stayed in Dubai in attempts to earn enough money to try repay their debts but with low-paying jobs, the couple are struggling.
Hisham Al Zahrani, manager of Zakat and Social Services at Dar Al Ber, says the family are appealing for help to settle their debts so they might be reunited.
“This young girl has lived a very difficult life. Her family have spent all their earning and income to help her lead a normal life but now it has all fallen apart and they need support. Back in Sri Lanka the children do not go to school and are being care for by Mrs Fathima’s ailing mother. We hope you can support her by helping her pay off her debts of around Dh100,000 and bringing her daughter back to be with her.”