Bedridden UAE boy Khalifa gets wings with Chelsea star Cesar Azpilicueta’s visit

Football keeps 11-year-old motivated after car accident left him with multiple fractures

Dubai: Young Khalifa Ali Salem Al Mansoori eats, breathes and sleeps football. But the 11-year-old Emirati had to do it from the confines of his bed after an accident fractured his spine and pelvis when he was a four-year-old.

Still the cheerful Emirati keeps his spirits high and is hopeful of kicking a football in the near future. He got a big boost when Chelsea legend and captain Cesar Azpilicueta visited him at the Paley Middle East Clinic at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi.

Favourite player

“Meeting Azpilicueta is a dream come true for me. I felt extremely happy to interact with Azpilicueta, who is a legend in the football world and my favourite player. I did not expect to get this opportunity, especially when I’m in the hospital after surgery. I congratulated him on the Spanish team’s win (Nations League). His kind words have given me a morale boost in my recovery journey,” said the excited 11-year-old.

Sustaining serious injury

“Azpi is special to me because I am a big fan. My physical condition had prevented me from watching him in action at the 2021 Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, but I am glad I got a chance to meet him in person.”

Khalifa had sustained serious injuries when he was hit by a car. In the accident, Khalifa’s spine and pelvis were fractured and his hip joint was damaged. At the Paley Middle East Clinic, he recently underwent a surgery to change the shape of his damaged hip joint and lengthen the femur. The Emirati boy is currently undergoing intensive physical therapy at the hospital to regain movement of his hip and knee.

Inspirational encounter

“I slept with the signed ball besides me last night. It is a special gift I will always cherish. I also sent a picture of us (Khalifa & Azpilicueta) together to all my school friends and family.” Khalifa added.

Azpilicueta, who is in the UAE with his family, learnt about Khalifa’s story through the hospital authorities and wanted to surprise him with a visit. The inspirational encounter filled the hospital corridors with smiles, laughter, and a renewed sense of hope for both the patient and his family.

“Our son met with an accident when he was four years old. It has not been an easy journey. The legendary footballer’s visit has made us very happy. It was great to see our son excited, happy, and forgetting all his pain,” his father Ali Salem Mubarak said. “Khalifa is still talking about the visit. He is on top of the world. Even now he is texting all his friends.”

Preventing dislocation

Khalifa has had multiple surgeries and the first process, at the time of injury, was to fix the pelvic fractures. In 2018, another surgery was performed to improve the shape of the hip socket to prevent dislocation.

The most recent operation involved breaking (or cutting) his left femur bone in two places and applying an external fixator to the femur. One bone cut to change the angle of the bone below his damaged hip joint and one to lengthen the femur as it is shorter than the left side.

Braving pain 

“He had told me when I first met him five years ago that he wanted his leg to get better so that he could play football. He loved watching football, especially his beloved Chelsea to keep him motivated as to what may be possible,” Dr. Michael Uglow, Director of Paley Middle East Clinic and Consultant Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, Burjeel Medical City, said. “He is very brave, but has had some pain, which has slowed him down a little.”

The Spanish international spoke to Khalifa about his own injuries and how, through patience and rehabilitation, he recovered to pursue his sport.

“I am here after one year in the UAE, and happy to meet you, Khalifa. Stay brave and follow the instructions of your doctors. I want to watch you play football in the future,” Azpilicueta told the young fan.

Dr. Uglow is happy to see Khalifa improving all the time and has daily physiotherapy to work on getting his knee moving. Talking about the process to get Khalifa walking, femur is being lengthened by 1mm per day and the aim is to lengthen it to 5cm to match the right side.

Recovery journey

“He is attending the physio gym and is now walking with support. When he has lengthened enough, he will keep the external fixator on his leg until the bone has healed, which will be about another 3-4 months. He will keep going with physical therapy during this time and when it is removed he will be able to walk fully and build up his strength and return to activities including football, approximately 6-7 months after the surgery,” Dr. Uglow added.

“Football has been a great way to pass the time during my recovery journey. In the hospital, watching football is one of the ways I entertain myself and I get excited watching good matches,” Khalifa said.

“I like Chelsea because they play well. Watching these great players inspires me and I would love to be a football player when I grow up,” he added.

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