Senri's life-changing surgery for bomb injuries

Coming out of surgery for extensive injuries caused by a bomb, the first question Senri asked was whether his fingers were straight. His guardian Ros held out her hands with fingers outstretched and told him they were as straight as hers.

Looking down at his hands in disbelief, Senri saw for the first time in over two years, they were indeed straight. The next question the soccer-obsessed 14-year-old asked was if he could one day be a goalkeeper again.

At the age of 11, Senri was playing with friends in a muddy basin close to his home in Honiara, capital city of the Solomon Islands, when he picked up a US 81mm white phosphorus mortar.

The bomb exploded, the white phosphorus inside it flowing over his hands and arms, legs and body, smoking as it ate through layers of skin.

Senri ran home in agonising pain, helped by a neighbour who stripped off his clothes and carried him to his uncle’s car to be rushed to the hospital, his skin still smoking.

While Senri was fortunate to survive, he sustained acute burns injuries, and remembers the horrifying pain vividly.

The bomb, left behind since World War Two, had been unearthed in recent rains. It is one of hundreds of thousands that has remained in the Solomon Islands since the war, presenting an ongoing threat to the lives of its people, and creating fears for the safety of children like Senri.

Since the accident, Senri’s arms have been scarred from elbows to fingertips, and his left hand clenched in a fist with his fingers fused together. His right hand also had some fusion and constriction, meaning his fingers couldn’t be properly straightened.

Due to limited hospital resources in the Solomon Islands, Senri didn’t receive any primary care for his burns at the time of the accident. The extent of his treatment was three weeks of antibiotics, until Dr Nick Hamilton, an Australian clinician from Toowoomba working in the Solomon Islands was asked to see Senri as his father sought more treatment.

Once COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted, arrangements were made with the help of Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for children (ROMAC), to fly Senri to Sydney for care at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH).  ROMAC is covering all of Senri’s medical and care.

After arriving in Australia in April, Senri underwent two major hand surgeries to release the constrictions on his hands, and then to close the wound and improve his mobility.

Dr Sarah Tolerton, Paediatric Plastic Surgeon at SCH, said the surgeries not only helped Senri physically, but helped to boost his confidence, after his injuries left him feeling very self-conscious.

“The number one goal was to help give Senri the care he needed so that he would have a hand that he would be able to use functionally again, and we are extremely happy with the outcomes.”

“Before, he couldn’t do anything that required two hands, or grasp with his left hand. Now, he can open a bottle, catch a ball, and ride a bike.”

Because Senri’s hand and fingers were fused for so long and his injuries so severe, multi-stage surgery was required, first to straighten out his fingers using wires, and then taking a skin graft from his leg to cover the site of the burns.

In the weeks following, Senri returned to SCH for regular dressing changes and hand therapy and during this time built special connections with not only his care team but also the wider hospital community.

“During his time in Sydney, he made friendship bracelets with the team from the hospital school, was visited by special guests on Star Wars Day and had his face painted at a superhero themed event hosted by John Holland as part of the SCH redevelopment. He has loved every minute,” Ros Kelly, Senri’s guardian from ROMAC said.

Senri will now undergo 18 to 24 months of intensive physiotherapy. Set to return home to his father and four sisters in Honiara this month, he’s been connected with local medical professionals to continue supporting him in his rehabilitation journey.

“The love and care that strangers have shown Senri has been unbelievable and has made such a big difference to his time in Australia. We are appreciative of the incredible support and the partnerships that have made it all possible,” Ros said.

Thanks to the life-changing surgery received at SCH, Senri has rebuilt a lot of confidence, and is looking forward to returning to school. He now dreams of one day becoming a doctor himself, and until then, is most looking forward to the day he can return to the soccer field. 

Read more about Senri's story via The Daily Telegraph or watch Senri's story on 7 News below.