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Abu Dhabi Police have issued fines to more than 22,000 motorists between January and June this year for failing to buckle up as required. Photo for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Pexels

Abu Dhabi: Seat belts save lives, and an Abu Dhabi teacher can testify to this after suffering a nearly-fatal accident at the start of the year.

Having forgotten to fasten her seat belt while on a drive from the capital City to Al Ain, Layla Abu Hussein, 46, was flung out of the car when it veered out of control and rolled over. Ejected from the passenger seat through the windshield, Abu Hussein received life-threatening chest and pelvis injuries, even as her husband, who was strapped in, remained unharmed.

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Momentary lapse

“I’ve always been mindful about putting on the seat belt, and it was [a momentary lapse] that I forgot to put it on that day after stopping for a short break. I never imagined just how important the seatbelt can be,” Abu Hussein, a Jordanian resident who is also a mother-of-five, told Gulf News.

Layla Abu Hussein

Layla Abu Hussein

After being stabilised at a trauma centre, Abu Hussein was rushed to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD) when the care team noticed that the impact had severed her aorta, the main artery that delivers blood from the heart to the body. “Her aorta, while severed, had remained in place, which is a big part of why [Abu Hussein] is still with us today. Many people with a transected aorta pass away before they reach the hospital,” said Dr. Houssam Younes, a vascular surgeon at the CCAD, which is also Abu Dhabi’s designated chest pain centre.

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Heart surgery

Dr Younes said Abu Hussein was transferred to CCAD in the middle of the night. To repair the severed aorta, a tube was placed in the vessel to allow the blood to pass through it. The procedure was minimally invasive, and took about an hour. “With no time to lose, we had got [the patient] into surgery as soon as she had arrived in the early hours of the morning. Happily, the life-saving procedure went well and Layla has made a remarkable recovery since,” Dr Younes said.

Dr Houssam Younes

Dr Houssam Younes

Following the procedure, Abu Hussein was kept under observation at CCAD for a few days, then transferred back to the trauma centre. Over the next few months, she underwent two more surgeries for her pelvic injury, and was finally back on her feet by mid-April. Amidst all this, she had also gone back to teaching Arabic and English remotely. “I knew I had to go back to school and so that is what I did. It also helped that I was able to do it through distance learning platforms,” Abu Hussein said.

Dangers of not buckling up

Need to stay healthy

For now, the resilient teacher is still undergoing physiotherapy. And she said the incident had highlighted a number of key messages for her, of which the most important is to never forget to put on a seatbelt, even for a minute. “Other than that, I am also trying my best to get enough exercise and to go for regular walks to keep myself fit,” she added.

Addressing the need to stay healthy, Dr Younes said an injury such as Abu Hussein’s can prove fatal if one has a weak, unhealthy heart. “Timely treatment is important in such cases. But endovascular surgery also changes the haemodynamics, and only a healthy heart can tolerate this,” he explained.

Abu Hussein will still need to undergo annual CT scans to ensure that her aorta repair remains in place. “I hope that my experience encourages people to always wear their seat belt. Even a momentary lapse can have dire consequences, as I learned,” she said.

Traffic regulation

Abu Dhabi’s traffic police is also particularly vigilant about seatbelt safety. It fined more than 22,000 between January and June this year for failing to buckle up as required. The emirate’s traffic laws require all drivers and passengers to be strapped in, and also stipulates age-appropriate car seats for young children.