November 28, 2023
BANGKOK – “He’s a real strong person. Silent, humble and brave. Not complaining, loving peace. Suffered a lot,” says Prof Josef Haik, MD, MPH, plastic surgeon, active director of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the director of the Burn Center.
“He will come out only after full rehabilitation, not a moment before, like the Thai patient before him. He came with burns, walked out of here on his own feet,” says the plastic surgeon.
Wanchai will take a little longer because he has a severe medical condition. His feet underwent intensive treatment, including two surgeries.
Wanchai’s first days in hospital were even tougher. He was in a critical condition. Doctors had to reduce the blood flow to his legs despite the burns, to keep his heart beating.
He’s in pain. Bandages fix his legs in a way that is designed to prevent his Achilles tendon from shortening, which will save time in rehabilitation. The fresh wound from the skin graft burns.
Haik is experienced in burn treatment, a graduate of rescue teams in Europe and Africa.
By the book Wanchai has at least 150 days in bed before he can be transferred to a rehabilitation centre to study how to walk again. He has to get used to pressure bandages and accessories to replace his missing toes, says Haik.
The doctor is unsure about what lies in store for Wanchai. ”First, get well and start walking. We’ll see afterwards.”
A deadly day
Saturday, October 7, started like every day. Wanchai woke up in his flat near the Ego packaging factory on the potato fields.
The employees’ quarters are close to the packing house, about 2-3km from nearby villages. Around 15-20 workers live on site. Wanchai lived downstairs together with the field workers, picking potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
“There were rockets as usual,” Wanchai says, as he recalls the day. “At 10am, a group of 10-20 terrorists arrived, Hamas disguised as IDF soldiers. I hid with friends in the kitchen. Then we debated what to do. Some said that it was not a good idea to run to the orange plantation. We didn’t think the terrorists would come back. News on social media showed there was an intrusion, but we didn’t understand how huge it was on that day.
“I went into my room and listened to music. My friends, about 14 people, sat outside.
“At 2 or 3pm, many more terrorists arrived in cars. Suddenly, I see that the room is on fire, everything around me is burning.
“I didn’t know what to do. If I go outside, Hamas terrorists would murder me. If I stay inside, I will die from the smoke that was choking me and the fire that burned me. In the end, I went outside. No one was there anymore.”
Wanchai later learned that some of his friends had been murdered, and two were kidnapped.
“I was standing outside and didn’t know where to run. Finally, I hid between bushes of chilli pepper that we grew nearby. I hid in the bushes and waited. I heard voices, but I didn’t come out of hiding. I didn’t know if these were our Israeli soldiers or the terrorists.”
At night, when he returned to the quarters to look for a first-aid bag to deal with his burns, Wanchai heard the sounds of a helicopter. He spotted a flashlight in the building and sent an SOS signal to the pilot. The helicopter circled above a few times but left.
It turned out that the pilot did not know whether it was a victim signalling for help or a terrorist trap.
On the ground, Wanchai knew his time was running out.
Describing the ordeal, he says, “I dragged myself to the road, slowly, as much as I could. It was 200-300 metres, but on burnt feet it felt as if I had run a thousand marathons.”
It wasn’t until the next afternoon that a force of Israeli soldiers rescued Wanchai and took him to the Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva. Later he was transferred to the Sheba Medical Center.