Health Stories

Dad’s got robot arms!

Despite his difficult recovery, this devoted dad is determined to make his kids proud

After surviving a horrific accident, Ghanim Al Shnen underwent a world-first procedure.

Here, he shares his story about life after his accident and why he’s determined to make his family proud.

Lifting the steel bar, I placed it into the wall cavity.

It was November 2018, and, as a labourer, I was working on the top floor of a low-rise apartment building in Sydney.

Suddenly, there was a loud blast. Then, the world went black.

When I came to, I was in agony.

Gazing upwards, I could see fireworks erupting in the sky.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t a light show, but a shower of sparks raining down from the overhead power lines.

I’d been electrocuted!

The metal bar I’d been holding had touched a live wire, sending an electric shock through my body before exiting through the back of my shoulder.

My arms and shoulder had exploded, leaving raw, red skin hanging off both my arms.

The voltage was so strong, it had caused my heart to stop for several minutes before I was shocked back to life.

Rushed to Concord Hospital by ambulance, all I could think about was my beautiful wife Athmar, and our sons, Ali, then nine, and twins, Ahmad and Mohammed, seven.

Once I arrived, doctors swarmed around my bed.

‘Please don’t take my arms,’ I cried.

But sadly, they had no choice. There were no viable parts left to save.

I also needed to have skin grafts on my back, hip and shoulder.

Afterwards, I was devastated.

But I realised I had two options – I could give up, or be grateful just to be alive.

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Me with Ali as a baby (Credit: Supplied)

Without arms, though, I knew I couldn’t work to support my beloved family.

I hadn’t seen them since we’d been forced to separate six years earlier.

Back then, we were living in war-torn Iraq, and I had worked as a police officer.

One day, I left home and started the ignition of my car.

Just then, I peered up to our balcony and noticed my son Ali waving to me from above.

‘Dad, you forgot your phone,’ he called out.

Jumping out of the car to go and fetch it, I raced up our driveway when suddenly my car exploded.

Someone had planted a bomb to try and kill me.

Thankfully, my family and I weren’t injured – my son had saved my life.

But I quickly realised that it was too dangerous for us to stay in our home country.

I’d sought asylum in Australia, while Athmar and our boys had found refuge in Finland.

We’d had to leave everyone we knew and loved, as well as face making the hardest decision of our lives – to be apart.

I’d learnt English by reading the dictionary front to back and worked so hard at my job.

Now this…

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Me after the accident (Credit: Supplied)

Over the next three months, I underwent five more surgeries to repair my injuries.

Then I heard about Dr Munjed Al Muderis – a world renowned orthopaedic surgeon based in Sydney, who fitted patients with prosthetic limbs.

Just like me, Dr Munjed had fled Iraq for a safer life in Australia, decades earlier.

During his time in detention on arriving, he spent hours poring over an anatomy textbook so he could become a surgeon to help others.

Thankfully, a year later, he was deemed a legitimate refugee and was able to fulfil his dreams.

Then, almost 20 years later, after hearing about my journey, he agreed to help me.

I was very grateful to be able to connect with someone who knew exactly what it felt like to flee their home country.

Still, I longed to see my family again.

So, I organised for them to visit in May 2019.

When they landed in Sydney, I burst into tears as I hugged them for the first time in seven years.

With my family by my side, I underwent a world-first procedure to have an implant attached to the bones and muscles in my arms using a technique called osseointegration, which means ‘joining to the bone’.

It meant I’d be able to move my prosthetics using mind control – just like I was a robot!

‘We’re so proud of you,’ the boys said.

Sadly, after three months together, it was time for my family to go home.

It broke my heart, but I was determined to make them proud.

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Me with Dr Munjed Al Murderis (Credit: Supplied)

Incredibly, after two months of physiotherapy, it was time to test out my robotic arm.

Once it was attached, I was able to lift a drink bottle to my mouth for the first time since my accident.

But I didn’t just stop there.

I also practised eating, brushing my teeth and even taking a selfie to send to my family.

I’m a real-life robo-dad, I thought, smiling.

Now, almost two years on from my accident, I’m so thankful I survived.

In July this year, I underwent my final surgery to have tissue removed from my right arm to allow for easier movement.

Next, I’ve set my sights on being able to write, dress myself and hopefully even drive a car.

The best thing of all will be hugging my family again one day.

While I still need help for tasks such as bathing myself, as my prosthetics aren’t waterproof, it’s hard to believe just how far I’ve come.

Every day I wake up grateful to be alive.

To help, please visit au.gofundme.com/ThisisGhanim

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