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Mahdi Abu Snaineh, 6 years old, cannot move his legs or his left arm, and has shrapnel close to his spinal cord and his aorta. His father, Nidal, 27, hovers nearby, wary of the bustling Israelis at Hadassah University Hospital who are trying to save his child. Mahdi was in a car with his grandparents at a checkpoint in northern Jerusalem last week when a fellow Palestinian set off shrapnel-filled explosives by remote control. His grandfather died instantly and his grandmother was wounded. Mahdi, sitting in the back, was paralyzed, his abdomen pierced by nearly 10 pieces of shrapnel.
Mahdi was originally taken to a hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where doctors operated on him to repair his intestines cut by shrapnel and diagnosed partial paralysis. The family asked that the boy be transferred here to Hadassah University Hospital-Ein Kerem, which has a pediatric intensive care unit and neurosurgeons.
The hospital's policy is to treat all who are ailing with evenhandedness, said a Hadassah spokeswoman, Barbara Sofer.
Dr. Ido Yatsiv, director of the pediatriac unit, said that Mahdi would live, and was "guardedly optimistic'' that the boy would regain movement in his legs. Shrapnel in his thoracic vertebrae has caused the spinal cord to swell, but it is not severed. Doctors want to see if the swelling will go down before deciding whether to operate.
Similarly, shrapnel near Mahdi's heart, a centimeter from his aorta, could be threatening if the body does not begin to form scar tissue around it. Again, the doctors want to wait. There was also shrapnel in Mahdi's armpit, which reduced the movement of his hand, and paralysis of the phrenic nerve, which helps the diaphragm create suction in the lungs.
If the doctors find they must leave some shrapnel, Dr. Yatsiv said, with a quiet sigh, "he'll set off the metal detectors for the rest of his life'' - no small issue for a Palestinian in Israel. But more important, he said, is that Mahdi walk again.