Fates and tragedies from Nepal 

Saruli - Rescue after a serious accident 

Saruli is an eleven-year-old girl coming from one of our project-villages in the mountains of the completely isolated region of Mugu.

She is the Youngest of the family and has four brothers. They all are Dalits (‘Untouchables’) and live in poverty and very tough conditions: the little yard, which they cultivate in very hard work, is only once a year leading to a harvestable outcome. The yield is only enough to feed the family for three months of a year. Next to this they do own an ox and a cow, which they use for agriculture. During the other months all family members do earn money as day-laborers: at construction sites, lugging heavy loads and so on.

Saruli visits the fifth grade in the village school, which makes her very proud even though she cannot attend school on a daily basis because she often has to do other work at home. The work is very hard for such a young girl: chopping wood und carrying it home on long ways, fetching water, taking care of the animals or accompanying the animals on their search for food on the mountain slopes, fieldwork and housework.

On the 6th of December Saruli’s life and the life of her family changed dramatically: the girl suffered under a devastating accident on which half of her body gets burned. Saruli did wrap herself into a Saree of her mother which is a 4.5 meter long textile during a play. Since the mountaineers are used to fire as a light-, cooking and heating-source each house has an open fire in the middle of a soot-blackened room which is always full of smoke. Sarulis clothes did catch fire like a torch and she could not get off the Saree fast enough and her lower body was on fire.

The immediate plight was huge after the family was able to extinguish the fire. Everybody was scared for Saruli’s life but during the complete darkness they could not go anywhere. Far and wide there is no doctor available.

The next day (7th of December) some of the villagers took the burned girl and carried her to Gamgadhi since there is the only hospital taking care of the 45,000 people of Mugu. Unfortunately the strain of the long march and the pain and the effort were wasted time since there was as usual no doctor at the hospital and no medication. The ‘medical staff’ told the family to fly directly to the lowland-country so that the girl could get the urgently needed and lifesaving operation because otherwise she would die. But it was utopian for the impoverished family to fly out of Mugu. The parents also cannot read and write and they would have a very hard time to get along in ‘Rest of Nepal’.
 So they hopelessly and desperately took the march back home to their village.

On the 8th of December Nilkantha, our project-assistant in Mugu heard of Saruli’s fate and decided to contact our office in Kathmandu and inform them about the emergency. Dikendra, Achyut and I decided right away that the little girl and her family will get flight out as fast as possible on the costs of Back to Life and that we will take care of the immediate and further medical treatment in Kathmandu. We already had some experiences with such situations in connection with Kushi and Anil, so we knew whom we had to talk to for the needed treatment.

The next day, 9th of December, Nilkantha told Saruli’s father that Back to Life will completely support his girl.

Unfortunately the nearest Thalsa-Airstrip, a landing strip craved in the mountains, has been closed five days before because of Snow and Ice. The Snow and Ice would have made the landing and starting on this rough road too dangerous. So the only chance to fly them to the lowland-country was taking the long way to Jumla, which is a neighbor-region to Mugu leading over high and partly snow covered passes. Jumla does have a paved and concreted landing strip and was therefore open for flights. Saruli’s father did organize seven other men to accompany him on the long way so they could alternately carry Saruli.

Very early on the 10th of December the journey started. Mahendra, one of our employees, accompany the group. He brought a stretcher on which Saruli could get transported. The transportation was already without her injuries very difficult and strenuous due to the rocky and steep pathways of the cattle drovers. The pain of every step and every move, they must have been unbearable. 
The highest pass on the way to Jumla was 4,100 meters high and is already tough for people who are very fit, healthy and uninjured. They walked till the night surrounded them so they could get as far as possible. During this night they stayed at one of the rare little villages. This poor, poor little girl and it would not get easier for her the next day. The time was pressing.

The group arrived on the 11th of December at Jumla after another long day of walking, climbing and enduring. Mahendra immediately searched for flight-information but the news were yet again devastating. Neither plane nor helicopter had landed since a few days due to the bad weather-conditions. Mahendra then organized housing for the night. Saruli had yet to suffer another night full of never-ending-pain.

Early next morning they all went to the landing strip. Saruli was lying on the stretcher on the ground just hoping for the saving plane to show up soon. But no single plane did land in Jumla on the 12th of December.

The next day, the 13th of December, Saruli was still waiting for a plane while lying on the stretcher when a Twin-Otter arrived. But unbelievable yet true, the airline refused to take severely injured Saruli with them because Saruli would not be able to sit straight since both legs were most-partly burned.
Also there were other people waiting to take this flight. This was so inhuman and everybody, Saruli, her father, our employee had tears in their eyes because of this heartlessness.

On Wednesday, the 14th of December, Mahendra was able to get flight tickets after he kept bugging and asking for help. We bought a complete seat-row for Saruli, so that she could be lying during the flight. This was the only way to get her out of this area. Hoping that the weather would be gracious they finally could fly Saruli out on the ninth day after the accident happened. Her wounds already started to smell badly. 
Due to their excitement Saruli and her father hardly slept this night. Saruli was torn between anxious and relieve, between pain and hope.

On the 15th of December our office in Kathmandu was as well in great excitement and hoped that the plane from Jumla would be able to fly. The hours passed but till noon there were no news. Dikendra and Achyut had already spoken to the both hospitals, registered Saruli for all needed examinations and treatments and took care of all other administrative concerns. We all hoped that she could make it to Kathmandu in a short time. At 2:30 pm we got the relieving phone-call from Jumla (phoning in the mountains is not so easy) that Saruli would be landing at 4:00 pm in Kathmandu.

Saruli was crying because she was so relieved, hopeful and thankful when Dikendra and Achyut picked her up at the airport. Our both project-manager were touched and very warm and gentle to Saruli and showed her great optimism. Also the father was crying and had tears running down his cheeks.

At 5:00 pm Saruli was already lying in the Patan hospital on a patients bed with a flexible wire frame around her so that the sheets would not touch her burned skin. The wound-treatment was only possible in general anesthesia. This hospital has its own specialized department for burning-victims and is also specialized on first-line-treatment.

At the Patan-hospital they firstly took some blood samples for all the needed lab tests so that Saruli could get operated right on the next day. The complicated first wound-treatment started during the next eleven days. Due to the immense pain the treatment could only be made in general anaesthesia. In several little operations the wounds got cleaned and the melted nylon-pieces of the sari that she was wearing when the accident happened and which were burned into her skin were also removed. Saruli was very brave though she really had to suffer from overpowering pain.

After eleven days she was transferred to the Sushma Koirala Memorial Hospital in Kathmandu, which is specialized on the after-treatment of burnings and reconstructive surgery. Here, too, Sarulis wounds needed to be cleaned several times a day to support the natural healing process.

In the following weeks and during several operations she got so called mesh-grafts on her legs, her left arm and her buttocks and also own-skin-transplantations to be able to close the huge wounds. Even these many operations Saruli endured very brave before she started a special therapeutical treatment where she had to wear specifically made “compression-trousers” to prevent hypertrophic scars.

At the same time Saruli received important moving-therapy during several weeks, so that her skin would stay elastic and her (freedom of) movement could be improved.

It was after 108 long days (!!!!) that Saruli and her father, who stayed with her during the whole time, were able to leave the hospital in Kathmandu. And it was already April when they finally arrived at their home village in Mugu.The enjoyment of reunion was impossible to describe. Already on the way from the airstrip to their village many of Sarulis friends, relatives and villagers were coming along to hold her in their arms again. Some of the villagers said, that they did not think they would ever see her again since such severe burning normally mean the certain death in the remoteness of Mugu.

Saruli’s mother, Karmkala was crying so hard that she was first not able to say anything when our project worker asked her, how she would feel. Later, after she calmed down a little bit she said that she dreamed of her girl every night and that she thought of her right after she woke up. Every morning she started the day with tears in her eyes. The whole time she could not really sleep and rest, always worrying, if she would ever see her little girl again. “Today is the luckiest day of my life. I would have never thought that my daughter would come back in such a good condition of health.”

In June our project manager, Dikendra and Achyut, did visit in Mugu to have a look how she is doing and how the healing process did progress. They could directly see that she is doing very well. Saruli’s parents take care of her touchingly and her father watches out that Saruli gets the ointments regularly which were prescribed from the doctor in Kathmandu. She is doing much better by now. She is able to walk without any problems. Just sitting down and getting up is still somehow difficult for her. She has to move slowly and carefully so that she does not damage the still very soft skin.

It is now just a short time that Saruli is going to school again with her friends. Due to the accident she did miss the final exams and therefore she has to repeat the school year, but she does not care: “At the beginning I lost every hope that I would ever be able to stand up and walk again. Now I am able to go back to school with my friends. I am very happy about that and enjoy every day.”

In October Saruli has to go back to the hospital in Kathmandu to get a follow-up-examination. Then it will be decided, if and how many operations will be needed, so that the girl has a future without any further restraints and a mostly pain-free-life.
 “Due to the help of Back to Life my child got reborn” said Saruli’s mother and she wanted to say her deepest ‘thank you’ to all the supporters in the name of her whole family.

For Sarulis further treatment we are still urgently looking for support. If you would like to help Saruli, you can do so HERE.
In the name of Saruli and the whole Back-to-Life-Team, we say THANK YOU!!