When Zubaida Hasan, a girl from a remote village in Afghanistan, was just 9 years old, she was lighting the stove in her family’s kitchen when the whole thing went up in flames. She immediately caught on fire and the flames melted her chin to her chest, forever stretching her face downwards.
Her family attempted to get Zubaida help from all of the local hospitals, but when they turned her away because her condition was too serious, they decided to seek out the local U.S. military base to see if their doctors could help. Phone calls were made and American doctor Peter Grossman agreed to see Zubaida, though upon seeing her pictures he warned the family not to expect much because her case was a tough one.
Zubaida and her family were desperate for help because she was becoming very unhealthy since her deformities left her unable to function properly.
“She was drooling because she couldn’t close her mouth. She was skinny because she wasn’t able to eat properly. She was sleeping with her eyes open and it was taking its toll on her. You could see that she was wearing down,” said Dr. Peter Grossman.
With aid from the Children’s Burn Foundation, who paid for all of the expenses involving her treatment, she flew with her father to Los Angeles to be treated at Grossman Burn Center. When they met, it was clear to Grossman that Zubaida’s case was one of the worst he had ever seen. Her treatment would cost an estimated $ 1 million and take about 3 years to complete, according to her doctor.
Zubaida’s father agreed to leave her in the care of the hospital so he could return to Afghanistan and continue to care for the rest of her family, and for a few months she did well in the facility and with a temporary local Afghan family. As she underwent surgeries and could move more freely, she began lightly dancing and exploring what it’s like to be a kid again.
“She looked like a weird, 80-year-old man, and now a little girl evolved from underneath that mask of scar tissue,” Grossman said. “She wanted to live. She wanted to dance. She wanted to be a child again.”
It was at this point that Grossman and his wife, Rebecca, knew that they couldn’t just let Zubaida stay in the hospital or with a family that didn’t know how to care for her for the years ahead.
“Sometimes things just feel right. And you do something you never thought you would do,” Grossman said of their decision to bring Zubaida home and care for her during her recovery.
This now-10-year-old girl fit in perfectly in their household, and with her surgeries progressing nicely, she was able to attend school and make friends like a normal child again. She learned English in just 12 weeks and held her 11th birthday party at the Grossman household, surrounded by her many friends and enjoying life. She even invited Peter to attend the father-daughter dance with her, to which he absolutely said yes.
“I could see how proud she was to go the dance and have me be there with her. That just did it for me. I mean I said to myself, she is my child. While she is in this country, she is my child,” he said.
In just one year, Zubaida had her last reconstructive surgery and Grossman knew it was time for her to return to Afghanistan. Though he grappled with the decision, knowing that in her remote village there would be limited methods of contact and few resources, he ultimately knew she needed to go back home. Since the family did not even have so much as a post office to deliver messages or pictures to, they had no idea how Zubaida’s progression was going and were shocked to see her when they met up.
Zubaida’s father reported that, while their daughter was away, her mother had two nervous breakdowns that almost claimed her life and they wept as they held their little girl again.
“They may not have everything in the world,” he said. “They may not be able to provide her with all the luxuries in the world, but the one thing they can provide her with is love, and that is what they have for her and she has for them.”
Grossman was able to keep in contact with Zubaida from time to time as she grew up after giving her a satellite phone, though her English language skills faded over time as she had no one to practice with. She actually returned to the states to be with the Grossmans in her teenage years as well so she could continue to attend school. Zubaida will always be their miracle child who defied all odds and learned to live again.