Photos courtesy of the Soffe family
On Thursday, May 29, six-month-old Elizabeth Soffe was put down for a morning nap in her bedroom by her mother, Sinead Soffe.
The Irish expat family has lived in Doha for about three years, and were at the time of the accident residing in Beverly Hills 7, a compound operated by the Al Asmakh group.
Moments after returning downstairs, the mother heard the child crying, and ran to Elizabeth’s room, finding it engulfed in smoke, and her crib, which had been underneath an A/C unit, on fire.
According to friends of the family, Sinead Soffe grabbed her daughter and did her best to extinguish the flames, before running downstairs with the child and calling an ambulance.
Elizabeth was taken to Hamad Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where doctors said that burns covered more than 60 percent of her body.
News of the accident has been spreading in Qatar through Facebook posts, and sparking renewed concerns about fire safety here.
An official Civil Defense report into the cause of the fire is not due for several weeks, but it is likely that the blaze began in the air conditioning unit above Elizabeth’s cot. The Soffes said the A/C unit had been running prior to putting the baby down for a nap.
In a public post on Facebook, Sinead Soffe – a school nurse – has appealed to all Qatar residents to take measures to improve their family’s safety:
“For now we would hope that each and every one of you insist your landlords check your electrics and install more smoke alarms. We had one in every bedroom, but it happened too fast – but it could save a life.”
Last week, the Ministry of Interior also offered several home safety tips to avoid fires, including making sure AC units are not running all the time and double-checking electrical appliances to avoid short-circuits.
Following last month’s accident, doctors at Hamad Hospital told Elizabeth’s parents that their daughter would require the treatment of a burns specialist, who could only be found abroad.
However, the couple’s insurance company was unable to find a suitable placement quickly enough, and it was only with “a lot of assistance” from the Qatari government and the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi that a place was finally secured several days later at a private clinic in London, according to family friends.
The baby was then flown to the United Kingdom’s Birmingham Children’s Hospital, a center of excellence for the treatment of burns.
Over the past two weeks, Elizabeth has already had five surgeries. Though she is in critical but stable condition, she still has a long road to go, her father Liam Soffe said. Speaking by phone today to Doha News, the project manager explained:
“She’ll need a huge amount of care for the whole of her life, if she survives.
She’ll need skin grafts and specialist plastic surgery for her whole life. Her burns are full thickness in a lot of places – her hair was on fire, her stomach – the only thing that wasn’t burned on her front was where her nappy was. She’ll lose at least some of her fingers, an ear, but we’re hoping she’ll keep her eyesight.”
As they struggle to cope with the emotional fallout of the incident, the Soffes are also grappling with practical issues involving their daughter’s emergency evacuation to the UK, including concerns about funding Elizabeth’s medical care.
The family is not British, so does not quality for free treatment in the UK. Their insurance company initially told them that Elizabeth’s hospital bills would only be covered if costs were incurred in Qatar or in Ireland, their home country.
But because Ireland has no specialist burns unit for children, the insurance company is covering costs for the moment.
However, the Soffes are not confident that this will continue in the long term. They said they are worried about how they’ll meet future costs, given the amount of treatment their child is likely to need in the months and years to come.
The couple is also currently separated from their three other children, who are staying with their grandmother in Ireland. Elizabeth’s parents are lodging in free charitable accommodation near the hospital, but will eventually need to find rented housing in Birmingham for their family during what is expected to be a lengthy hospital stay.
Additionally, the Soffes anticipate incurring significant expenses while flying between between Ireland and the UK to see their other children.
The Soffes also lost a large quantity of their belongings in the fire, as well as the use of their villa.
After initially providing temporary accommodation for the family for a week, Al Asmakh has apparently offered no further compensation, and has not yet returned the Soffe’s June rent – which was cashed soon after the fire – or their deposit for the property.
Al Asmakh have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The family’s financial worries have not escaped the attention of their friends in Doha, who have formed a committee to help raise funds.
The group’s first event will be held next Thursday, June 19, at 7pm at Doha’s Rugby Club. An entry fee of QR100 will be charged, and attendees will also be able to buy tickets for a raffle, with prizes donated from a range of companies including hotels, beauty salons and restaurants.
Speaking to Doha News, Pamela Murphy of the Doha Irish Society said:
“We wanted to try to raise some money quickly before people leave for the summer.
In the long term, though, we want to take a more structured approach, and we are planning some bigger events, such as a book sale and a coffee morning, for later in the year.”
Liam Soffe told Doha News today that the family has been “overwhelmed” by the support offered by the community in Doha, including help offered by friends who stepped in to look after Elizabeth’s siblings until they could be flown to Ireland to stay with relatives.
Space at the event at the Rugby Club is limited, and tickets will be sold on the door on a first come first served basis. More details about the fundraiser can be found on the Elizabeth Soffe Facebook fundraiser page here. Anyone wishing to help can email [email protected], or you can donate online here.