Zubaida Hasan Survives and Thrives

Heat is one of the first things we usually warn children about, as it is well-known how tender scorched skin is and how quickly a burn can worsen. Burns are a fearsome injury, not only are they painful, but they also demolish the body’s first barrier to the outside world: skin. Burns disrupt the immune system and the death of tissue affects the body’s reactions. Immune cells struggle to reach affected tissue and infections can easily take root. But no matter the warnings and caution, accidents can happen, and Zubaida Hasan underwent a transformative journey after being severely burned by a fire in her home.

The Story of Zubaida

In a remote region of Afghanistan, in the late summer of 2001, 9-year-old Zubaida was lighting her family’s kerosene cooking stove when the worst happened. She was pulled free, the fire smothered and put out, but the damage had been done. The awful heat of the flames had not only wounded Zubaida deeply—they had disfigured her. Her burns went beyond the third degree.

The skin of Zubaida’s body had melted and flowed like lava, and when it cooled and hardened, scarred and stiff, it left the skin of her face pulled down and affixed to her chest, pulling on her eyelids and mouth. Her arm was now part of her chest. Unable to close her eyes, horrifically burned, young, 9-year-old Zubaida somehow held on.

Her father refused to give up and cared for her as best he could. Doctors in Afghanistan had minimal supplies and could hardly help. They advised him to let her die. He did not listen. Zubaida’s father took his daughter across the border to Iran, where she was briefly hospitalized. Doctors there did what they could, but she was discharged after 20 days with a poor prognosis. Again refusing to listen to people who told him to let his child die, her father returned them to Afghanistan and continued to search for anyone who could help his daughter.

When All Seems Lost, Hope Arrives

It was 2002 before Zubaida’s father found help in Kabul, at a U.S. military base. Despite the fact that military bases are usually barred to civilians, they listened to her father and offered their help. Zubaida’s fierce will to live had brought her to a miracle. The doctors at the military base decided to contact the State Department to see what could be done to help Zubaida.

With help from several non-profit organizations and charities, Zubaida was brought to the United States to begin receiving specialized care and extensive surgeries in an attempt to reverse the worst of the damage she had endured. Her journey, already long and arduous, brought her to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, California. Zubaida’s father came with her so she would have a family member for at least her first surgery. Since her timeline at the Burn Center was extensive, her father returned to Afghanistan after being assured of her care and safety.

Zubaida, a child in a strange land, underwent 12 surgeries over the course of one year. She started school –something she had never done before– and learned English in 12 weeks. She attended physical therapy and psychotherapy sessions to augment her healing, and it truly was astounding. The unrecognizable little girl had emerged from her scarred disfigurement and was blossoming into a healthy and thriving young girl. Dеspitе thе pain of skin grafts and surgеriеs,  thе doctors had to wrap hеr bandagеs loosеly bеcausе Zubaida was so happy shе dancеd. 

To support hеr living in thе U. S. ,  Zubaida originally livеd with an Afghan-Amеrican family,  but as timе wеnt on thеy wеrе unablе to continuе kееping hеr,  so Zubaida wеnt to thе homе of onе of thе doctors: Dr.  Pеtеr H.  Grossman and his wifе,  Rеbеcca,  took Zubaida into thеir homе,  bеcamе hеr lеgal guardians and madе hеr a part of thеir own family. 

Evеntually,  Zubaida rеturnеd to Afghanistan to join hеr family and sее hеr siblings and rеlativеs again.  A story full circle, her heroine’s journey completed and all before becoming a teenager.

Many people worked together to give Zubaida a second chance: her father, the U.S. military, the State Department, the Red Cross, the Children’s Burn Foundation, Sherman Oaks Hospital, Peter and Rebecca Grossman as well as the Grossman Burn Center, and the Afghan and Iranian communities in America that took her under their wing, and Round Meadow Elementary: where Zubaida went to school for the first time.

While everyone played a part, the Grossman Burn Center is where Zubaida transformed. Grossman Burn Center are “plastic surgery-based medical centers of excellence specializing in the comprehensive treatment of burns – from acute care and reconstruction to rehabilitation and psychological counseling.” The Grossman Burn Foundation partners with them to “promote effective, sustainable partnership solutions for the comprehensive treatment, care, and support of burn survivors and their families in the United States and around the world.” The Grossman Burn Center was founded in 1969, and the Grossman Burn Foundation was established in 2007.

The Grossmans have touched countless lives and doubtlessly changed many lives for the better. Zubaida Hasan is a remarkable case, but she is only one of the people who have passed through the doors of the Grossman Burn Center. She was so captivating because of her youth, vitality, intelligence, and spirit. The book Tiny Dancer: The Incredible True Story of a Young Burn Victim’s Journey from Afghanistan was published in 2005 by Anthony Flacco for those who wish to dive deeper into Zubaida’s incredible story.


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