Shaikha Al Hammoudi, with her daughter Mariam, a 23-year-old Emirati national with cerebral palsy and hypothyroidism. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: Taking care of a child with special needs is a life-long commitment that Shaikha Ali Mohammad Al Awwal Al Hammoudi made when her first-born was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. As the UAE marks Emirati Children’s Day on March 15, this Emirati mother’s love for and dedication to her daughter makes for an inspiring story.

A resident of Fujairah, Al Hammoudi has raised her special daughter Mariam Salem Sulaiman Al Adab Al Hammoudi even while completing her studies and taking up a teaching job. And she is a mother of eight, including three daughters and five sons.

I believe that if we smile and are determined to be happy, no matter what the challenge, we can attract good things in life.

- Shaikha Ali Mohammad Al Awwal Al Hammoudi

Mariam, now 24, is at Sharjah’s long term physical rehabilitation unit — NMC ProVita International Medical Centre at Al Zahra Hospital. Her mother spends three days at home to care for her youngest son who is two years old and the rest of week stays by Mariam’s side at NMC ProVita.

“I believe that if we smile and are determined to be happy, no matter what the challenge, we can attract good things in life. I feel blessed to have Mariam as my daughter. Her unconditional love inspires me to do more,” said Al Hammoudi.

Recalling the time when Mariam was born, she said: “I was at UAE University, a 20-year-old married student focused on my studies when I discovered I was pregnant. We were from Dibba Al Hosn and I took three weeks off to deliver my baby, nurse her and return to university as examinations were round the corner. When my final examination for the first year of graduation began, my child suffered high-grade fever which affected her brain. But my parents did not tell me. The fever subsided but six months later, my daughter could not stand and we realised on a visit to the doctor that the fever had resulted in an irreparable brain damage and she had missed many milestones.”

Having a supportive husband, in-laws and parents provide Al Hammoudi with a great support system; they discouraged her from giving up her university course. “I continued to study and my mother took care of my little girl, just as I graduated, I had my second daughter who was diagnosed with a hole in her heart. I thought to myself, ‘How can this be, why would God be so merciless to me?’,” Al Hammoudi said.

But undeterred, she continued with caring for both her daughters during the weekends and studying during the week. Luckily, medication and therapy helped her second daughter’s condition who was subsequently treated for her condition. After completing her graduation, Al Hammoudi returned to Dibba Al Hosn, admitted Mariam to a special needs school in Dibba and took up a job as a teacher in the local school.

Pursue your own dreams

“I made sure that I was always there for my daughter when she returned home and completed my job in the hours when she was away at school.” Al Hammoudi said she had to move Mariam to NMC ProVita, six months ago as at the age of 18, her school could no longer accommodate her and it was important to continue with a structured social and physical rehabilitation routine. She is thankful for the dynamic support of the team of caregivers at NMC ProVita and said she could see a lot of positive changes in her daughter.

Her message to other mothers facing the same situation is: “Never give up on your child and at the same time, take time out to pursue your dreams.”

Mariam’s condition has vastly improved in the past six months, Poonam Deshpande, head therapist at NMC ProVita, said. A quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and hypothyroidism, Mariam has the mental age of an eight-year-old. Six months ago, she could hardly hold her head up and had to be fed with a tube because she could not swallow food. But daily physiotherapy, speech and occupation therapy had helped. As have weekly visits to parks and introduction to art and painting. This coupled with the love showered on her by her family has resulted in important breakthroughs. “She is able to hold her head a bit, swallow liquid food and no longer needs a food tube. She is able to smile and also paint a butterfly,” said Al Hammoudi, holding up a painting of her daughter with pride.

Emirati Children’s Day

The Emirati Children’s Day was officially adopted on March 15, 2018, to coincide with the approval of UAE’s Child protection Law No 3 also called Wadeema’s Law of March 15, 2016.

A special day was announced by Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, to commemorate the memory of Wadeema, an 8-year-old Emirati girl who died in 2012 due to extreme torture perpetrated by her father Hamad Al Shirawee and his girl firend Alanoud Al Amri.

Wadeema’s horrendous abuse and ensuing death shocked the nation when she was found buried in the Sharjah desert in 2012.

Wadeema’s law meant the creation of child protection units, and established responsibility on the part of the Government to disseminate information on child well-being.