It was one year ago, on February 19, 2019, that an overnight fire began in a home in the Halifax community of Spryfield, N.S.
Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho managed to escape, but the flames moved so quickly that none of their seven children could be saved. A family of nine was reduced to two.
Neighbours who witnessed the devastating fire say it’s something they will never forget. Many have received counselling, with some requiring ongoing therapy to this day.
On the eve of the tragedy’s one year anniversary many of those neighbours gathered where the home once stood.
They laid down flowers and placed a stuffed toy for each of the seven children who lost their lives that night; Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2, and four-month-old Abdullah.
But the impact of the tragedy was felt far beyond the neighbourhood where the family lived with thousands attending the Islamic funeral service for the seven children.
Although their children have been laid to rest, the parent’s recovery remains an ongoing effort.
In an effort to save his children that night Ebraheim suffered severe burns to 80 per cent of his body. He remains in hospital to this day.
The director of Halifax Infirmary’s burn unit and lead doctor for Ebraheim Barho’s care said a burn injury that significant is rare.
“Many of those patients would not survive those injuries,” said Dr. Jack Rasmussen.
To save his life, the team at Halifax’s infirmary had to try something that’s never been done before.
“To have a burn as severe as his, affecting more than 80 percent of his body and developing such profound lung dysfunction, requiring him to go on ECMO – the lung replacement machine, is as far as I know unique,” said Rasmussen.
“It was certainly a learning experience for all of us to push what we’ve done before, but it shows that for a young otherwise healthy patient that it’s worthwhile to push the envelope a little bit and work hard to get a good outcome.”
Ebraheim has had a challenging recovery after originally being placed in a medically induced coma.
He’s undergone numerous surgeries and doctors have had to rely on just 20 percent of his skin to reconstruct the 80 percent of his body covered in burns that would be unable to heal on their own.
But over the past year, Ebraheim has come along way in his recovery.
“Ebraheim is at a point now where he’s certainly communicating well with us, which has been a nice change for him to have a voice for himself again,” said Rasmussen.
“Especially with conjunction with his wife, they’ve really be able to communicate very well with the team which helps us to really address what he needs.”
Kawthar Barho continues to spend every day at her husbands side, and has become an integral part of his care team.
“I don’t think we could have done what we’ve done without Kawthar’s involvement,” said Dr. Rasmussen.
“She’s been everything from a translator right up to a part-time nurse for us helping with dressing, his therapy, she’s really been involved in every part of his care.”
The next step for the couple will be to continue his recovery at home.
Although it remains unclear when that will happen, his doctors say it’s a step that is getting closer.
“That’s still going to involve lots of ongoing therapy support from the hospital teams,” said Dr. Rasmussen.
“Thankfully they’re getting to that point now where they can do that from home, versus having to do that here at the hopsital.”
As the couple moves towards going home to heal, the community continues to stand behind them.
It’s a community that hasn’t forgotten the family’s terrible loss.
A maple tree has been planted for the children. Nearby sits a granite stone and in English and Arabic the names of all seven children are etched into it.
The permanent memorial stands in the Halifax Common — an area that lies at the heart of a city where this tragedy broke the hearts of so many.