She arrived in Italy at the age of nine and a few days ago she returned to her home country just after her 11th birthday, after an unforgettable two years.
W (the initial of her first name) fled the bombardments of Syria’s civil war that left her with very severe injuries to both her body and face. "She was unrecognisable because she had third-degree burns all over," explains Lucia Celesti, Head of the Public Relations and Social Services Office at the Rome’s Bambino Gesù Paediatric Hospital. Here W underwent a series of delicate plastic surgery operations to allow her to return to a pain-free life. Thanks to the Enel Cuore Accoglienza Famiglie ("Family Hospitality") project, W and her mother were provided with free accommodation in Rome at the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross of Lebanon house in Rome. The network of tutors and cultural mediators made available to W and her mother by the hospital also helped them feel less alone and ensured they could communicate with others. W was even able to go to school, something she had never done back in Syria on account of the war. She studied English and also learned Italian at the Istituto Virgilio and at the hospital, went on school trips with her classmates, and made friends. When they were leaving for home, the head of the Bambino Gesù Hospital came to say goodbye, while the Principal of the school gave her a gift of a watch and a violin.
W’s is just one of the many stories with a happy ending to emerge from Bambino Gesù each year. The world-renowned "Pope’s Hospital" also provides free treatment to children from Asia, Africa and South America. "Medicine has changed greatly: over 85% of childhood tumours can now be treated here and even once-fatal illnesses like cystic fibrosis are now conditions patients can live with, even though they will need regular stints in hospital and check-ups," explains Celesti. This is where the Enel Cuore project comes in by providing patients’ families with free and long-term accommodation in Rome at the Sisters of the Cross of Lebanon hostel in the city’s Monteverde Vecchio district. "Right now, the Sisters are playing host to the parents of four children from the world’s poorest nation, the Central African Republic."
Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at the Cathedral in the Republic’s capital, Bangui. He then put the nation’s only paediatric hospital under the care of the Bambino Gesù in Rome which set about restructuring its departments and doctor training. The most challenging cases are transferred to Rome for treatment. Two little boys, of one and three years old, are now being treated there for oesophageal strictures caused by ingesting caustic substances. The surgeons will have to reconstruct the children’s oesophagus during a series of operations, over the course of a year. There’s also an 11-month old little girl suffering from bladder exstrophy, a rare condition that is incurable in Africa, while a little boy of three is being treated for epispadias, a birth defect at the opening of the urethra.
Also living at the Sisters of the Cross hostel right now are three youngsters from Venezuela and a further three have returned home after treatment and recovery. A three-year-old boy suffering from bone marrow aplasia (a condition similar to leukaemia) will require at least a year’s treatment at the Bambino Gesù Hospital. He was brought to Italy by the Red Cross and is even managing to go to school in Rome. An eight-year-old girl with sickle cell anaemia, a hereditary genetic blood condition, will, on the other hand, have to undergo a bone marrow transplant. This is a delicate operation that involves very lengthy post-transplant care requiring constant check-ups. "This is why what Enel Cuore is doing is very important – the patient can stay near the hospital with her parents free of charge and for a long period of time." So that she can feel like she is part of a family even when she is a long way from home.