As international search and rescue teams looked for earthquake survivors in Syria, Manhal Tarraf, 40, dug his wife and year-old daughter out from beneath the rubble of their home in Latakia.
Shopworker Mr Tarraf was on duty on the morning of February 6.
His wife, Rawan Al Essa, survived the earthquake but their only daughter, Maryam, did not.
“I was asleep with my daughter in my arms and sister by my side on the bed when the earthquake happened. When I opened my eyes, my daughter was dead in my arms and my sister was dead by my side,” Ms Al Essa said from her hospital bed at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC).
Ms Al Essa, 30, suffered from crush injuries that resulted in kidney failure and she had blood in her lungs.
She was flown along with nine others for treatment in the UAE, where doctors now expect her to be well enough to be discharged by as early as next week.
Five adult patients were taken to SSMC, while five children aged nine, 10, 12, 14 and 16 were transferred to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
Two have traumatic brain injuries and a woman who lost her four children is paralysed from the waist down.
‘I can still feel them’
Ali Yosef Ramo, a 43-year-old father of four, was also flown to Abu Dhabi for urgent care.
“I am one of the lucky ones,” he said.
Mr Yosef lost his 10-year-old son and his wife, who was two months pregnant, when the earthquake struck in the middle of the night.
“I know entire families who have died and others who have lost all their children. I thank God every day and see this earthquake as a wake-up call for of us to be closer to God,” said Mr Ramo who acknowledges the presence of his deceased family.
“I am grateful and thankful to God.
“My son and wife are not dead. I know they are in a better place, and when I shut my eyes, I can still feel them around me, telling me that they are fine.”
Mr Ramo’s two daughters, aged 18 and 15, and son, 14, survived the earthquake.
He said they are four out of less than 10 people who survived in their building in Latakia where more than a hundred people lived.
“When the earthquake happened, I screamed for everyone to stand next to one of the pillars of the house. I could hear people screaming and running towards the stairs but told my children not to open the door because I knew that was the best thing to do.
“A few minutes later, I was under the rubble and if the rubble and slabs of concrete had moved a few centimetres then I would be dead.”
He was trapped for seven hours.
“To tell you that it was worse than being in your grave is an understatement. When they pulled me out, it felt like I was being pulled out of a deep well,” Mr Ramo added.
He, too, suffered from crush injuries but said that most of the damage was caused when rescuers pulled him from the rubble.
“Every movement of the tractor as it was removing the rubble felt like it was hitting my head,” he said. “When they dragged me out, it felt like glass was cutting through my legs.”
After receiving treatment at SSMC, Mr Yosef’s condition is stable.
“Such generosity and kindness we have never seen and is expected from a country like that UAE.”
Varying stages of recovery
Dr Marcelo Ribeiro, consultant general surgeon at SSMC, said that both Mr Ramo and Ms Al Essa could be discharged as early as next week.
“There will be no more surgery for them,” he said.
Two other patients that were flown to the Emirates, however, suffered traumatic brain injuries.
“They are stable but we are waiting to see how they will progress,” Dr Ribeiro said.
“They are receiving the best possible care and we hope they will all recover in due time.”
Mr Tarraf said: “At the hospital in Syria, there was one X-ray machine for more than 1,000 patients. There was almost no medical equipment.
“We are grateful for the UAE and Sheikha Fatima for flying us over for treatment — beginning with the plane which had a dedicated doctor for each patient and the ambulances for each family and now this.”
The patients were transported last week on a special evacuation flight which also included anaesthesiologists, technicians and paramedics, as well as the latest medical equipment.
The mission was carried out by Emirates Red Crescent, the humanitarian arm of the UAE government, in partnership with the Syrian Ministry of Health, under the directive of Sheikha Fatima, Mother of the Nation.