Warning: This report may be disturbing to some readers.
Benita Kiani Flavarjani was playing with her cousin in their grandfather's home in the central Iranian city of Isfahan when they heard the sound of gunfire.
Curious to know what was happening outside, the two kids went to the balcony, where Benita’s head was hit by some 20 metal pellets fired by police.
Now, the 5 ½-year-old girl “has to see the world with only one eye for the rest of her life”, a close relative told IranWire.
Benita is among hundreds of Iranians who have sustained severe eye trauma from metal pellets shot by security forces during the nationwide protests that have rocked the country for 11 weeks.
The relative, who was given the pseudonym of Afsaneh to protect her identity, called IranWire five days after the November 15 incident to tell Benita's story, but she asked not to publish a report about it, citing security concerns for the family.
She now gave us the greenlight, saying the family is willing to “make her voice heard and seek justice for this beautiful child”.
“I'm burning, I'm burning”
Afsaneh said Benita's mother has been shocked by the incident, while the whole immediate family has been under pressure by the authorities to keep the girl’s story for themselves.
"They don't talk on the phone at all [because] all their phones are being monitored. Benita's grandmother has said no one should call them, because [security officers] have gone to their house and they control everything.”
Afsaneh was told what happened during that evening during which police clashed with protesters in the alley leading to the apartment building where Benita’s grandfather lives.
"The kids were playing when they suddenly heard a noise and then Benita's nine-year-old cousin opened the door of the balcony and the two went out. When Benita's mother saw that, she ran to try to prevent them from going out, but before she could reach them, Benita had returned inside the apartment screaming ‘I'm burning, I'm burning’".
“They have ruthlessly fired more than 20 metal pellets to the face of this 5 ½-year child. There are more than 16 balls in Benita's head. The rest of the balls are in her ears, face and nose. One of the bullets hit directly her right eye, which unfortunately caused her to lose sight" in this eye.
“Severe headaches and eye pain”
After the incident, Benita was taken to the hospital, where her eye was bandaged to stop the intense bleeding. She was brought back to hospital a few days later with a fever.
"Benita has been under the supervision of different doctors, but no one has been able to do anything for her. A few days ago, doctors told the family that she needs many surgeries. The only important issue now is to remove the ball from her right eye. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to see with her right eye again," Afsaneh said.
Benita underwent first surgery a few days ago, but the doctors failed to remove the pellet that entered deeply into the eye without taking the entire eye out.
"She suffers from severe headaches and severe eye pain. Her other eye is also swollen, and she has not managed to open it yet," Afsaneh said.
“Maybe someone hears our voice”
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, IranWire’s medical adviser, took a close look at parts of Benita's medical file and consulted with several eye specialists and surgeons.
He said the little girl would need to undergo several surgeries to have a chance of having her eye saved.
"At least 12 foreign bodies, which are most likely [metal] balls, can be seen on the right side of the child's head in just one CT scan. Two of these pellets are around the eyes; one is stuck in the eye and the other one passed through it”.
Esfandiari said the doctors have provided Benita neurosurgery consultation and strong antibiotics to reduce the eye inflammation and risk of infection, which would in turn allow doctors to try to “remove the pellet and finally save the eye".
"My heart is broken for this family, for her parents, for her grandparents, for the whole family. Their life has been ruined", Afsaneh said, in tears.
"Maybe someone hears our voice and can help her to get her sight back."