From tragedy to recovery

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The accident was a world away.

Calhoun Middle School student Rawda Fouad, 11, has bits of memory of that day. She was 3 years old and playing outside her home in Armant, Egypt.

"I know I saw the car, but I felt like running," Rawda said, adding, "I must have thought I could outrun it." DRC/Al Key Rawda Fouad does an assignment with her classmates at Calhoun Middle School on Thursday in Denton. View larger More photos Photo store

She remembers being trapped under the car and looking up to see her older sister Yomna peering underneath, trying to find her.

Their mother, Taghrid Fouad, heard the commotion from inside the house. Her daughter had been hit by a police car.

"The voice of the crash was very harsh," Fouad said.

By the time she got outside, a neighbor had already lifted her daughter inside the police car, and the driver was speeding off to the hospital. Fouad saw no other cars, so she began running, although, she remembers, she wasn't quite sure where to run.

"I didn't know where the hospital was," Fouad said.

She ran to the home of a relative, who accompanied her to the hospital. When she arrived, she was told her daughter's injuries were too traumatic for her to see her. Another relative claimed to be brave enough to look.

"She peered through a crack in the door - and fainted," Taghrid Fouad said.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Fouad, now the imam for the Islamic Society of Denton, arrived home to see neighbors crying hysterically. He learned what had happened to his daughter. 

The soldier driving the car - Egyptian police officers don't drive, they are driven by soldiers - had slammed on the brakes as he hit Rawda, the smoking tires on top of her legs.

The hospital for Armant, a small town on the Nile River north of Luxor, couldn't deal with her injuries. A doctor told the family they would have to go north, to the Assiut University Hospital, to find a specialist, Mohamed Fouad said.

Not only would it be an overnight journey, but the father had to come up with the equivalent of 20 years' salary, payable in advance, in order for them to care for his daughter.

Egypt was a police state at the time. There would be no asking the government to pay for his daughter's care, he said.

Keenly aware of the disadvantages Rawda already faced because she was a girl, Mohamed Fouad vowed to see it through, so his daughter could heal.

"It was very difficult," Mohamed Fouad said.

Rawda would have two surgeries, the university doctor said, one to clean the flesh and another to begin reconstruction.

During the first surgery, the doctor sent a nurse to bring the girl's father to the operating room.

Taghrid Fouad didn't know what to think of the summons, since she understood that no one was allowed in operating rooms.

"I thought she'd died. I was trembling," Taghrid Fouad said.

When her husband did not return for a long time, she knew the news was different. The doctor wanted to show him how lucky Rawda was. There was enough skin on her legs that they could be saved.

"By the bless of God, if she'd lost one millimeter more of skin, she would have been an amputee," Taghrid Fouad said.

Two weeks later, Rawda had a second surgery, a skin graft, which would help her body heal as she grew. The doctor told her parents she would need therapy to get her knee to work again. She would also need more surgeries when she was grown.

Rawda doesn't remember much of that, only the day her father carried her as they walked out of the hospital, her legs dangling.

"I thought they were going to fall off," Rawda said.

Her mother remembers how Rawda tried to romp and play like the other kids, but she couldn't run for a long time. Sometimes she would complain. Other times, she found kinship among other living things.

"If a small chicken walked like it was limping, Rawda would say to it, 'A police car hit you,'" Taghrid Fouad said.

Three years later, in October 2005, the Egyptian government sent Mohamed Fouad to serve for three years as imam to the Islamic Society of Denton. By 2006, he could send for his wife, Taghrid, and five children, including Rawda.

When his term was up and it was time to return to Egypt, his congregation offered him a private contract to stay.

Once in America, it's hard to leave, Mohamed Fouad said, but he and his wife were prepared. They had lived in Kenya for seven years. Some in his congregation encouraged the couple to think of their children and opportunities they would have if they stayed.

Mohamed Fouad was mindful that Rawda would soon need more reconstructive surgery and that American doctors had more training. It would be expensive, but unlike in Egypt, in the U.S., they could make payments.

Eventually, Fouad found Dr. Bruce Hermann, a Denton physician with fellowship training in plastic and reconstructive surgery, and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton.

When the hospital learned of Rawda's needs, "the hospital felt the case fell within its charity care parameters," spokeswoman Elizabeth Long said in an e-mail. "As such, the wheels were put into motion to begin her journey down the road to recovery."

Although Hermann has treated the scars of many burn victims, Rawda's scar was among the worst he'd ever seen, particularly the part that went over her knee. This first round of treatment tackled the most disfiguring portion, he said.

The remaining treatment should be successful in reducing the scar, which did not go all the way to the joint and thus did not affect the functionality of her knee.

"By the time we're finished, there should be a single line - laser-beam wide," Hermann said.

He's hopeful, too, that these new grafts will be life-changing for Rawda.

"Perhaps she will be more confident as she gets older, and that can help her in other ways," Hermann said.

Rawda is old enough to tend to her newest graft as it heals. She takes pictures of the progress and keeps them on her cellphone. But at school, she wears pants or leggings to keep them covered, in part to protect the skin and, in part, to avoid unwanted attention.

Middle school has both its rewards and its challenges, Rawda has found. As she recovers, her left knee remains stiff - she can't run and it's very difficult to climb stairs. She carries a key card on her lanyard so she can use the school elevator. After she fell when someone pushed her during a passing period, she began changing classes at the end of the passing periods to avoid the crowds, she said.

Rawda was enrolled in an athletic class at the beginning of the year until they started running. Then, she visited the school counselor and got transferred to choir.

She's in band and enjoys Spanish, but choir quickly became her favorite class.

"We are singing 'Rolling in the Deep,'" Rawda said. "It's a good song."

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com.


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