Bomb survivor hopes to walk again after Australian surgery

Photograph by Tim Bauer
Refugee, author and surgeon Dr Munjed Al Muderis, photographed for GW by Tim Bauer in Sydney, July 2014
Photograph by Tim Bauer Refugee, author and surgeon Dr Munjed Al Muderis, photographed for GW by Tim Bauer in Sydney, July 2014

Where Lisa Calan's legs should have been, there was only blood and jagged pieces of bone.

An Islamic State bomb had just blown off both her lower limbs - one below the kneecap and the other above.

Now the 27-year-old Kurd had to make a choice: to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair or to die.

Two years later, cutting-edge surgery in Australia has led her down another path - learning how to walk again.

It was the summer of 2015, June 5, just two days before the Turkish general election. The filmmaker had gone with family and friends to the pro-Kurdish HDP party rally in Diyarbakir??? in the country's south-east.

Soon, the group decided to leave, but Ms Calan refused to go the long way and headed back into the rally, weaving her way through the crowds.

Moments later the bomb exploded.

"I remember all of it. I wish I could forget," Ms Calan says.

"But I remember every single bit of it."

All around her were the wounded - at least four were killed in the blast. Women had started wailing the havar, the lament sung at funerals.

"I tried to get people up, then I realised the person to my left and the person to my right were dead," Ms Calan says.

"I went to feel for my legs ... and there was nothing there.

"Then I had to make a decision: whether I let myself go and die. I was battling in my head ... 'do I live a life in a wheelchair or do I battle here?'"

Then she thought of her older brother who had also lost his legs - she thought of how he had braved the pain.

"At that moment, I decided I want to live," Ms Calan says.

"I have got a lot of friends. I knew, I could survive."

The Kurdish community in Australia and Europe raised more than $500,000 for the medical costs.

Eight operations followed, aimed at reducing the pain and get her walking.

But every operation shortened the legs further, decreasing her chance of being able to walk using the traditional socket method to attach the prosthesis limb.

"A lot of these operations, they pull you down towards the ground," Ms Calan says.

"But I wasn't going to allow this, I was going to stand up."

Then she heard of Dr Munjed Al Muderis in Sydney.

An Iraqi refugee, and now one of Australia's leading orthopaedic surgeons, Dr Muderis mastered osseointegration in which a titanium rod is inserted into the femur, with the bone eventually growing into the implant. A prosthesis is then attached to the implant, allowing mobility and comfort.

"This is my last chance here in Australia," Ms Calan says.

Two months after the operation, she is in Melbourne to meet the Kurdish community.

Dressed in a bright floral dress, with a yellow headband, she radiates positivity.

Through an interpreter, she tells of the aftermath of the bomb blast with wry humour and even bursts of laughter.

And yet she says it is only natural to feel sad.

"You are constantly reminded of your disability even when you are crossing the street; how people look at you, see you are disabled," she says.

"Yes, I have those moments of sadness. I see that people see me as someone who is disabled. But I still feel strong."

What she doesn't allow herself to feel is hate.

"I can't be like the enemy," Ms Calan says.

"If I start thinking like them, if I am full of hate, then I am no better."

Ms Calan says she wants the world to know about Islamic State and the war crimes in the Middle East.

"If we don't have a common belief in peace, then we can't achieve peace in this world," she says.

"This peace can't be established just by us. This is the thing for the whole world to solve."

This story Bomb survivor hopes to walk again after Australian surgery first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.