Middle East battles maim, haunt kids like Hanan, 7, of Syria

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Hanan is 7.

She has a gap-toothed smile and loves Hello Kitty, the intensely cute Japanese cartoon character. A spangled Hello Kitty decorated her pink dress, which she demurely protected with a napkin Friday night, holding it in place with one hand while trying to navigate a fork around her dinner plate with the other, until a helpful tablemate taught her the tuck-the-napkin-into-your-collar trick.

Hanan is a Palestinian from Syria, and came to Chicago in April for medical treatment for her right leg, which was blown off below the knee by a bomb in the Syrian civil war which, in case you’ve lost track, has cost more than 100,000 lives over the past three years and displaced millions.

She was brought to Chicago by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

“I met her in Jordan when I was on my way to Gaza for a medical mission in February,” said Sarah Alrayyes, media coordinator for the charity in Chicago. “I’ve met many, many kids, and she is a very special and unique girl. She’s extremely smart. She’s just very captivating, really. Anyone who would meet her could not help falling in love. Before I met her, I was warned by our CEO, Steve Sosebee: ‘You will fall in love.’ I emailed him: ‘You are completely right.’”

Hanan limped heavily as she went from hug to hug Friday at an Iftar — a Ramadan break-the-fast community meal — at Reza’s, held to benefit the fund and several others.

Her parents couldn’t get out, but her grandmother took her to Jordan, where an aunt and uncle live.

“Our Jordan chapter stumbled upon her case,” Alrayyes said. Chicago’s branch of the non-political, non-religious charity brought her case to the attention of Lurie Children’s Hospital, which issued a letter crucial in getting Hanan, who didn’t have a passport, to the United States for treatment.

“Lurie Hospital has been wonderful,” Alrayyes said. “Also Shriner’s,” which did work to stabilize Hanan’s stump so it could be fitted with a prosthetic.

It’s not that they don’t have hospitals in Jordan, but the prosthetic leg she got there was rudimentary; it hurt and fell apart; her grandmother had to stitch it together.

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