Tough decisions ahead for our plucky burns survivor Shamiam

Brave schoolgirl Shamiam Arif with John McGoldrick of the Shamiam Arif Appeal committee
Brave schoolgirl Shamiam Arif with John McGoldrick of the Shamiam Arif Appeal committee

Brave Luton burns survivor Shamiam Arif had just one request for Professor Richard Hayward when they met at London’s celebrated Great Ormond Street Hospital last week.

The 12-year-old Challney Girls High pupil told the top paediatric neurosurgeon: “Please fix my head. I’m tired of wearing a helmet and I just want to be normal.”

The feisty tomboy was badly burned as a baby when a candle fell into her cot in Kashmir. She lost both hands in the blaze and her skull was burned down to the lining of her brain.

She would have died had she not been brought to Britain for life-saving surgery. Renowned burns specialist Peter Dziewulski gave his services free and Shamiam has had numerous grafts and surgical interventions, including the Krukenberg procedure to fashion two ‘fingers’ from her forearms.

She’s always impressed everyone with her huge zest for life, total lack of self pity and fierce independence.

Her school reports are invariably glowing, citing her as a role model for her have-a-go approach and sunny personality.

But as she approaches puberty, Shamiam wants to ditch the helmet she’s always worn for protection. She wants to grow a fringe, should she wish, and banish the hated compulsory headgear forever.

Because her condition is unique, the team at Great Ormond Street has been considering several different solutions.

It was initially thought that a titanium plate could be inserted in her skull, supported by skin grafts and muscle transplants.

Now Professor Hayward has put forward a different proposal: harvesting pieces of bone from Shamiam’s skull and installing them in the frontal gap where they would naturally regenerate to fill the void.

But further tests and checks will be necessary, particularly to ascertain if the original skin graft on her skull has adhered directly to the brain membrane, which could cause difficulties.

There is also another option: creating a skull cap which would protect Shamiam’s head but could be fitted into a wig, baseball cap or something more trendy.

Professor Hayward took great pains to explain everything to his young patient, who was accompanied by her parents Tahira and Arif, together with John and Linda McGoldrick from the Shamiam Arif Appeal Committee.

Shamiam will have an MRI and other reviews before the team meets once again to consider the best way forward.

But whatever the outcome, this inspirational young girl is adamant she wants her head ‘fixed.’