Nova Scotia

Burn patients speak about 'torturous' recovery facing father of 7 children lost in house fire

Two Nova Scotia burn survivors say their thoughts are with Ebraheim Barho as he recovers in hospital from severe burns.

Ebraheim Barho was severely burned in the Halifax house fire that killed his seven children

Ebraheim Barho was severely burned Feb. 19 in a Spryfield house fire that took the lives of his seven children. (Robert Short/CBC)

Two Nova Scotia burn survivors say their thoughts are with Ebraheim Barho as he recovers in hospital from severe burns.

Barho was injured in a house fire that killed his seven children on Feb. 19 in Spryfield, a suburb of Halifax.

Those burns still pose a threat to his life.

"Everyone still remains uncertain," said Natalie Horne, who speaks for the community group that sponsored the Barho family as refugees.

"There's definitely no clear path ahead right now. So every day we just hope for the best and that we will continue to get good news."

Horne said supporting Ebraheim's wife, Kawthar Barho, through Ebraheim's treatment has been eye-opening.

"I'm just learning every day the complexities that occur with burns that are more severe," she said.

'I can see it all'

Chris Backer of Lower Sackville, N.S., has an insider's view of burn recovery.

"I've been in a house that's on fire. ... I can see it all," he said.

Chris Backer of Lower Sackville is shown during his recovery from burns over 85 per cent of his body that occurred in a 2011 house fire. (Submitted by Chris Backer)

Backer was burned over 85 per cent of his body in 2011 in a fire in his home. He's still having surgeries to repair his skin, most recently on his right foot.  

As a member of the Nova Scotia Burn Support Group, he's been following the Barhos' story and thinking about Ebraheim's path to recovery.

"It's a long, long, arduous, torturous process. I mean it's very difficult," he said.

Risk of infection

Dr. Jack Rasmussen, a plastic surgeon who works in the burn unit of the QE2 Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, said he can't speak directly about any particular burn patient, but he can explain the risks that come with severe burns.

He said children are more resilient to burns than adults. He said the more skin that is burned, the higher the risk.

The Barho family are shown on their arrival at the Halifax airport in September 2017. (Enfield Weekly Press)

"Usually infection is the biggest challenge that we face," Rasmussen said.

Potentially deadly infections can occur in a patient's skin, at intravenous sites and in their lungs while they are on breathing machines.

"I wound up with impetigo," Backer said. "I wound up with MRSA. I wound up with shingles."

Painful recovery

Backer said the treatments for his burns felt worse than the fire itself.

"Just pulling bandages off of wounds and cleaning them up and debriding them, which is taking off the dead stuff. … It's very painful," he said.

"When it's skin infections, they're using like acetic acid on me to try and kill the infection. So there's burning. The treatment is worse than the fire."

He said he doesn't know how he survived the seven months in hospital while his skin was slowly replaced with sections removed from his scalp.

"I heard a lot of people say, you know, you're so brave, you're so strong," he said. "I just woke up … I can't say anything more than that.

"And some days you didn't want to wake up. Right? But you did, and there you were, and you keep plugging along."

Survivors, not victims

Debbie Ward of Middle Sackville was burned over 70 per cent of her body in a kitchen fire.  

That was 59 years ago when she was seven.

She is the president of the Nova Scotia Burn Support Group.

"Do not call us victims," she said. "We have survived. The victim is the one that did not make it."

Ward said part of her role is to visit burn survivors in hospital when she is invited.

"We just go in to let them know that there is life after burns," she said. "There's a lot of people who can't cope with it. Suicide is extremely high with burn survivors. And so we go in and just let them know that there are people who have been through this, and we'll help them as best we can to get them through it."

Ward said psychological recovery is just as important as physical healing.

"You're always thinking … that somebody is staring at you, or [there's] somebody over there that's laughing, they're laughing at you," she said.

"You have to become comfortable with your new you," she said.

Wider lessons

Both Backer and Ward said there's not much the public can do right now to support Ebraheim Barho directly.

"I believe anyway that the most important thing for the public would be for themselves just to be vigilant and to practise some of their own fire safety ... so this kind of stuff doesn't happen to them if they can't avoid it," Backer said.

For now, it's small gestures by those close to the Barhos that can make the biggest difference.

"Just my wife, my family, just my friends ... they had a vigil outside of the hospital for me," Ward said. "It was a very powerful thing and I don't think I could have done it alone."

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian