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Can “Miracle Boy” Ever Truly Heal?

An eleven-year-old Dutch boy, the sole survivor of a plane crash, reportedly smiled at his aunt and uncle who flew to his bedside when they recognized him from television pictures. He hasn’t been told yet that his parents and brother died in the crash.

The boy, identified as Ruben van Assouw, suffered multiple fractures in his lower limbs when the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330-200 crashed Tuesday at Tripoli International Airport killing 92 passengers and a crew of 11. Ruben is the sole survivor.

So, what lies ahead for the young victim? The good news is that his body is projected to have a complete recovery, however, his psychological injuries may persist for the rest of his life.

The most obvious danger is persistent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when one is witness to death or potential death that can cause lifelong feelings of anxiety, depression, detachment, distressing dreams or “flashbacks”. In children repetitive play may involve acting out the trauma over and over.

One major symptom of PTSD is “Survivor’s Guilt” and it adds symptoms of depression and low-self esteem that follow the belief that somehow their survival caused the death of the others. The sad thing about survivor’s guilt, as seen in the families of Holocaust survivors, is that is can be a multi-generational disorder.

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