Julie Aftab is only 26-years-old, but she's seen more trauma and tragedy than most individuals her age. Ten years ago, while she was living in Pakistan and working as an operator in a tiny office, she was brutally attacked with acid. The incident left her with lasting scars and in need of intense medical treatment. Today, she is rebuilding her life in Houston, Texas, and speaking out about the horror she endured.
In a recent interview with The Houston Chronicle, Aftab recounts the events that led to the vicious assault she faced at the tender age of 16. One day, while she was working at an office in Pakistan, she recalls a man coming in and asking if she was a Christian (he noticed a cross necklace she was wearing). When she responded "yes," he began to yell at her, claiming that she was hell-bound for refusing to embrace Islam.
Eventually, the man left -- but he came back less than an hour later to up the ante on his attacks. He promptly threw a bottle of battery acid on the teenager, burning her face and body instantly. When she tried to escape, a second man grabbed her her and poured the dangerous substance down her throat.
In a description reported by The Daily Mail, Aftab's teeth began to fall out and her esophagus was substantially burned. As she sought help in the streets outside of the office, a woman poured water over her and took her to the hospital. But the bizarre and traumatic experience didn't end there. When she arrived for treatment, doctors refused to help her -- because she was a Christian.
"They all turned against me," she told the Houston Chronicle. "Even the people who took me to the hospital. They told the doctor they were going to set the hospital on fire if they treated me."
Inevitably, the hospital turned her away and, as her family desperately sought treatment for her, others did as well. Finally, a hospital agreed to treat her; the damage to her body was extensive. Aftab couldn't speak or move her arms, she was missing an eye and eyelids and the majority of her esophagus was burned. The attack was so bad that her teeth could be seen through the space where her cheek once resided.
Doctors thought the young woman was bound to die, but she survived after nearly one year in the hospital. But her survival -- seeing as she was an open Christian who denied Islam -- was lamented by many. The Chronicle continues:
Aftab quickly learned that in her old neighborhood, she was a pariah. Her mutilated face was plastered on the news, associated with insulting Islam. Her family was persecuted, and their house was burned down.
"They wanted to hang me," she said. "They thought it would be an insult to Islam if I lived."
Aftab and her parents went to a nondenominational bishop in Pakistan, who said he would try to help. He took her in, contacted Shriners Hospitals for Children, and arranged for her treatment in Houston.
He gave her one piece of advice before she left Pakistan in 2004: "If you forgive them," he said, "your wound will heal without any medication. You can heal from the inside out."
Today, she lives on and is rebuilding the pieces of her life that were taken away from her so savagely. Initially, she was angry, wondering why God would allow such a horrific event to happen to her. Today, she has learned to forgive.
Upon arriving in Texas, the Ervin family, locals who had heard about her plight, took her in and taught her English. Doctors, too, pitched in on donated time to reconstruct her face and to provide the treatment she needs. Today, she is filled with thanksgiving and gratefulness.
"Maybe those doctors don't know what they did. Maybe they think they just did their jobs," Aftab told the Chronicle. "But for me, they gave me a life."
Now, she calls her scars "my jewel, my gift from God." This month, she is scheduled to take her citizenship test and she is continuing her studies as an accounting major at the University of Houston-Clear Lake -- truly a story of triumph over tragedy.
(H/T: Daily Mail)