VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
Slow, steady recovery for young hero of Thailand refugee camp fire
September 26, 2013 by Peter Biro
|Feeling better: Sha Nay Htoo (left) with the IRC’s Christine Petrie. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC|
As flames engulfed the refugee camp where he lived in Thailand, a 13-year-old Burmese boy stayed behind to help rescue other refugees. Sha Nay Htoo's heroic actions on that March day left him with third degree burns over most of his body. When the IRC's Peter Biro caught up with him last month, Sha Nay was out of the hospital where he received treatment and eager to return to his friends and family:
In March, when fire swept through the Ban Mae Surin camp for Burmese refugees in northwestern Thailand, 13-year-old Sha Nay Htoo was badly burnt as he was trying to save other refugees still caught in their houses.
The International Rescue Committee rushed him and other critically injured refugees to a Thai hospital six hours away, where he spent weeks in critical condition.
Now, after five months and dozens of surgeries — including several operations to place skin graft from his back onto his legs, hands and face — Sha Nay is slowly recovering.
“I still have some pain at night, but I feel so much better,” he says, sitting on a mattress in an IRC-run convalescence center in the Thai border town of Mae Hong Son. “I really want to return to the camp and play with my friends. I miss playing football and singing in the church.”
The IRC is supporting basic medical care, including the nutritional supplements he needs to remain in a stable condition. Sha Nay’s treatment was paid for by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) with The Best Friend Library, a local non-profit, helping with fundraising.
Christine Petrie, Thailand director for the IRC, says that Sha Nay will be brought back to the camp in the next few days.
“We don’t want anything to interfere with the healing of the wounds and we are making sure that he’ll be comfortable and protected against the harsh elements of the camp,” she says.
The IRC provides healthcare and other services in Ban Mae Surin and eight other refugee camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
IRC medics are making sure that Sha Nay receives the right food – camp diets are often lacking in energy and protein – so that he can return to his normal weight and rebuild damaged tissues.
Sha Nay will be returning to largely rebuilt Ban Mae Surin camp. The fire, which killed 37 people, destroyed a large section of the camp and left more than 2,300 people homeless. With extra funding from the Dutch aid organization Stichting Vluchteling and the U.S. government at a cost of over $400,000, the IRC has rebuilt 400 bamboo houses and the camp’s medical clinic. The clinic, which includes a fully equipped inpatient ward, a laboratory and a birthing room, was inaugurated earlier this month.
“We are looking forward to having him home,” Sha Nay’s mother, Naw Bleh Htoo, says. “The healing is still going to take some time. But I am so thankful that he’s alive.”