Photos courtesy of the Soffe family
Six-month-old Irish expat Elizabeth Soffe is facing her 13th operation to treat serious burns she received in a fire at her villa in Qatar, her father has told Doha News.
Elizabeth is receiving treatment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the UK, where she remains on a ventilator and has seven different IV lines providing sedatives, pain medicine and antibiotics.
As she prepares to undergo surgery today, her father Liam Soffe said that it is “impossible to know” how many more operations lie ahead:
“She will need many more over the next few weeks and as she grows up she will need constant visits to the doctors here to ascertain the need for more surgeries. Other children in similar positions have had well over 100 surgeries,” he said.
The family, which earlier this month urged fellow Qatar residents to double-check electrical outlets in their homes, said their situation has been exacerbated by a lack of contact and support from their landlord.
On Thursday, May 29, Elizabeth had been napping in a cot directly underneath an air-conditioning unit at her family’s rented villa in a popular compound – Beverly Hills 7, which is owned by Al Asmakh.
An official Civil Defense report about the exact cause of the fire is pending, but it appeared that the AC unit had caught fire, which spread to the baby’s cot.
Elizabeth suffered severe burns on 60 percent of her body, and doctors at Hamad Hospital advised the family to seek specialist treatment overseas.
Following assistance from the Qatari government and the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi a place was eventually found for Elizabeth at the specialist pediatric burns unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
In a statement sent to Doha News, the Soffe family told us that they wanted to express their “deep appreciation” to the Qatari government for their help, and for help given by other groups and individuals in Doha.
Lack of support from landlord
However, the family has told Doha News that the same cannot be said for their Beverly Hills 7 landlord Al Asmakh, whose actions have made “a very grim situation even more unbearable than it already is.”
The family state that their rent for June and the deposit on their villa have not been returned by the company, and that the temporary accommodation provided to house their three other children after the fire was withdrawn earlier than promised.
They also said that they have received no communication from the company or details about the company’s insurance, despite repeated attempts to get in touch.
Speaking to Doha News earlier this month, Al Asmakh General Manager Fadi Barakeh pledged to send a statement in response to the family’s allegations. But 10 days later, no official response has been issued.
However, during a phone conversation, Barakeh said that his company offered temporary accommodation to the family, and had worked hard to return the villa to a habitable standard so that the Soffes could move back in as soon as possible.
He also said that the June rent had been taken in error as the check had already been presented to the bank, and that it had not been returned because the individual nominated by the family to deal with the company had not come to collect it.
He added that the company was prepared to offer the family financial support if they needed it.
In response, the Soffe family sent us this statement:
“Frankly, we are gobsmacked that Al Asmakh can describe the house as being fit for human habitation. As of three days ago, there were no upstairs windows in the property – and there were loose electrical wires trailing up the outside carport and right through the villa itself.
It is totally disingenuous for Al Asmakh to claim they have tried to return the rent to the family. The simple fact of the matter is that two family friends repeatedly tried to get this issue resolved for more than a fortnight.
They have tried to make it as awkward and inconvenient as possible by insisting that the family’s nominated representative must collect the money in person. Why can’t they simply return the money to the bank account that they took it from in the first place or send the cheques to the nominated representative?
We also take particular exception to Fadi Barakeh’s remarks about making an unspecified contribution to the fund set up to help pay for Elizabeth’s future care. There is still no sign any contribution on the company’s behalf.”
The family state that Al Asmakh evicted their relative and three other children from temporary accommodation seven days after the fire.
They claim that the Beverly Hills Al Rayyan compound manager told them that they had to leave their loaned apartment as new tenants were moving in, and that they were offered no alternative accommodation.
Finally, the family allege that they had called compound maintenance to fix the air-conditioning unit in question just 12 days before the fire, because it had been leaking water.
In addition, they state that they had sent at least 10 emails to Al Asmakh about various maintenance issues with their villa, including a problem with their electric cooker, which they claim was still faulty after a technician had visited.
The company has not responded to a request for comment on these specific issues.
The Soffe family remains concerned about funding Elizabeth’s care, as her Irish nationality means that she does not qualify for free healthcare in the UK. They believe their insurance coverage, which is currently paying the bills, may soon cease.
The Soffes are also facing significant travel costs, and accommodation costs during what is likely to be a lengthy stay in Birmingham.
In response, family members have set up a charitable fund designed to meet these needs, so far raising nearly £40,000 (QAR247,921).
Family friends in Qatar also recently held a successful charity fundraising night at the Doha Rugby Club, which is planning additional events in the coming months.
Speaking to Doha News, Sinead Soffe said:
“It was amazing to see photos of my friends all wearing t-shirts with Elizabeth’s face on them (at the event). Very humbling.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the fund can find out more here.