Somali boy whose plight drew global attention dies after surgery

A Somali boy who was horribly disfigured months ago by a stray bullet in Somalia’s violent capital has died just days after a reconstructive surgery in neighbouring Kenya, his doctors said Thursday.

Safi Muhamed Shidah

Safi Muhamed Shidah

NAIROBI, Kenya — A Somali boy who was horribly disfigured months ago by a stray bullet in Somalia’s violent capital has died just days after a reconstructive surgery in neighbouring Kenya, his doctors said Thursday.

The plight of eight-year-old Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud was reported by The Associated Press in November in a story, photos and video, two months after he was shot in Mogadishu. Ahmed personified the civilian toll in the brutal conflict in Somalia and drew offers of aid from around the world. The bullet tore through his cheekbones, nose and mouth and destroyed his right eye.

Dr. Peter Nthumba said Ahmed died late Wednesday of intestinal bleeding that may have been caused by an ulcer or stress. Nthumba operated on the boy Monday in the Kenyan capital.

Relatives and well-wishers said they were shocked by the sudden death of Ahmed, a cheerful child who liked playing with a toy helicopter and spent time reading the Qur’an in his hospital bed. Doctors said the operation had gone well.

His heartbroken mother, Safi Mohamed Shidane, said that she had not expected her son’s life would end.

“I was hoping to pick up a healthy son, who can breathe through his nose like others,” Shidane said as tears ran down her cheeks. “But God said otherwise. It is God’s will. Today I’m collecting his body.”

When a U.S.-based aid group — Healing the Children of Minnesota — flew Ahmed to Kenya in October, the plan was to take him overseas. The group already had contacted hospitals in the U.S., Britain, Italy and Mexico. But the group, funded mainly by contributions from Somali immigrants, eventually opted for Ahmed to be operated on at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. The group has helped 56 other Somali war victims, mostly children, get medical care, said Abdi Gaal, its executive director.

Somalia’s capital sees near-daily bloodshed as a powerful insurgent group with links to al-Qaida tries to overthrow the fragile United Nations-backed government.

Last year, his mother told The AP that a barrage of bullets poured out from the presidential palace and one struck her son as they walked home from a Mogadishu market on Sept. 24.

Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, there are few images of the bloodshed in Somalia, where thousands of children have been casualties without the world knowing. Most foreign journalists stay away because of the danger. An AP photographer was present right after Ahmed was shot and took pictures of the bleeding boy as he was carried away by two bystanders. During the weeks that followed, AP journalists kept in touch with Ahmed and his mother.

Last year, Kijabe Hospital doctors did what they could to stitch together parts of his face and recommended further specialized surgery to restore his nose and reconstruct the upper lip and damaged cheekbone.

On Monday, Nthumba removed skin from Ahmed’s left hand and leg and stitched it at the place his nose once was as part of a series of operations to restore his face.

The doctor had been planning to discharge Ahmed from the intensive care unit on Thursday but the previous day, the boy suddenly suffered massive intestinal bleeding that was not believed to be a complication of the surgery, said Nthumba.

“Within 30 minutes the boy collapsed and we could not resuscitate him,” he said.

“It is another tragic loss of life for a young Somali,” said Katherine Grant, a child protection specialist with the UN’s children’s agency.

Ahmed, who is survived by his parents and two older sisters, has been interred in a Muslim cemetery in Nairobi. His mother says she will return soon to Somalia, where the UN says one child in 10 dies before his or her first birthday.

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