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Five-year-old Libyan amputee dreams of new leg

By Sara Sidner and Amir Ahmed, CNN
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Little girl loses leg in rocket blast
  • Malaak's home caught up in attack by pro-Gadhafi forces on her neighborhood
  • A rocket struck the house and exploded, injuring Malaak and killing her brother and sister
  • Nonprofit group, Global Medical Relief Fund, may now help her travel to the U.S. for artificial limb

Misrata, Libya (CNN) -- Five-year-old Malaak is having a bad day. People coming in and out of her room have interrupted her afternoon nap.

"What's up with all these people? It did not used to be that way," she said in a tone of voice laced with contempt. "I used to be able to play and run around. Now these people disturb me."

Malaak has every reason to be frustrated. For nearly a month she has been living, sleeping and eating in a hospital bed.

"What do you want?" her father asked, trying to soothe her.

"Dad, do not make me cry," she responded. "I do not want to see anyone. I want to go home. I want to be able to play and run and do whatever I want. I do not want to feel any pain and want to leave. That's it."

Then she just stopped talking and drifted into one of her silent spells.

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Her mother said her mood swings have become more and more pronounced after what happened to her, her three-year-old brother Mohamed and one-year-old sister Rodayna in the safety of their own home in Misrata, Libya.

On May 13 the three siblings had just lay down for an afternoon nap in their mother's room. Suddenly their neighborhood -- controlled by rebels opposing Libya's government -- came under attack by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

"They all were lying in bed and I was next to them on the same bed but I left to clean up the house," the children's mother, Saffiya Abdullah, explained.

"Less than a minute after that I heard the first Grad rocket falling and it seemed very close to our house so I ran back to hug them, pick them up and take them to safety," she added.

Instead more missiles rained down and before she got to her room there was a deafening blast. The door to the room came crashing down on her as she struggled to find her children.

A Grad rocket, which looks like an over-grown bullet about nine-feet long and 15 inches around, had slammed into her bedroom wall and exploded. It left a hole wide enough for two adults to push through at the same time.

"My clothes were burnt. A big part of the house was damaged and even my uncle's house next door was damaged," Malaak said, without mentioning the worst of it.

Malaak's right leg was nearly torn off. Her left leg was broken, as was her arm. Her mother stood there in shock. Her younger son and daughter weren't breathing.

"I lifted them up one after the other," she said. "I kept praying; God make me patient. God make me patient. And I found Malaak alive but Mohamed and Rodayna looked dead. The two youngest children were dead.

I want to travel to America and get a new leg then get right back here. That's it.
--Five-year-old Malaak
  • Libya
  • Misrata

"A mother would want to die rather than see her babies die." she said.

Malaak was rushed to the hospital. Doctors said there was no question about what had to be done.

"It was gross. It was nearly totally amputated. It was just the skin and some muscles keeping the limb attached to the body," Dr. Ahmad Radwan said.

Radwan, an Egyptian national who came to Libya as a volunteer with the Arab League, made the call. Malaak's leg had to be amputated.

He knew what it would mean to someone who had so much more life to live to wake up and find her leg gone. He also knew there were no prosthesis that would fit a child and she would be confined to a wheelchair. It was too much for him to bear.

"I couldn't do it. I did it for young guys and for rebels at the frontlines but I couldn't do it to Malaak," he said. He asked other doctors to take over.

But Radwan hasn't stopped fighting for her since the day he saw her being carried into the hospital. He called his fiancé who knew someone at the nonprofit group Global Medical Relief Fund.

The group's mission is to aid children who are missing or have lost the use of limbs or eyes. In Malaak's case that will likely mean she needs to travel to the United States to find help: a new leg to give her a better life.

We visited Malaak in the hospital a second time. It was Tuesday afternoon and she was in a great mood, smiling, laughing and offering everyone chocolates.

She is celebrating with her family, nurses and doctors. She has been told she must visit the hospital for more treatment but for the first time she can sleep at home.

It is a relief, a wish come true. When her father asked what she wanted now, she replied: "I want to travel to America and get a new leg then get right back here. That's it."

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