The long road to recovery for Thai terror survivor

The long road to recovery for Thai terror survivor

Having been trapped in a burning building when Hamas struck on Oct 7, Wanchai Monsena knows he is lucky to still be alive

Wanchai Monsena is seen in a hospital bed while being treated for severe burns at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel. Hamas terrorists set him alight on Oct 7. (Photo: AFP)
Wanchai Monsena is seen in a hospital bed while being treated for severe burns at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel. Hamas terrorists set him alight on Oct 7. (Photo: AFP)

Hamas? What you do comes back at you. It's Karma.

Wanchai Monsena, 44, speaks only Thai. The Israeli medical staff love him, but it's hard to communicate.

Hamas terrorists tried to burn him alive in their Oct 7 attack on Israel.

Thirty-nine Thai citizens were brutally murdered by Hamas that day, 19 wounded, and 30 kidnapped.

"He's a real strong person. Silent. Humble and brave. Doesn't complain, peace-loving. But he's suffered a lot," says Prof Josef Haik, MD, MPH, Plastic Surgeon, Active Director of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and director of the Burns Center at Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

"He will be allowed to go home only after full rehabilitation, not a moment before! Like the Thai patient who arrived before him. Came with burns, walked out on his own two feet".

For Mr Wanchai, it will take a little longer because he has 50% burns. His feet underwent intensive treatment, including two surgeries.

Mr Wanchai's first days in hospital were very tough. He was in critical condition. Doctors had to reduce the blood pressure in his legs despite the burns so that his heart kept beating.

He's in pain. Bandages fix his legs in a way designed to prevent his Achilles tendon from shortening, which will save time in rehabilitation. There is now also a fresh wound from a skin graft to treat his severe burns.

Prof Haik is experienced in burns treatment, having worked with rescue teams in Europe and Africa.

He knows how to shorten the healing process as much as possible, "but each body has its own timeframe, as does each soul", he says.

"By the book", Mr Wanchai has at least 150 more days in bed before he can be transferred to a rehabilitation centre to learn how to walk again. He has to get used to pressure bandages and accessories to replace his missing toes.

I ask him, "What are your plans for the future?" He's not sure: "First, get well and start walking. Afterwards, we'll see."

The death dilemma

Saturday, Oct 7, started like any other day.

Mr Wanchai woke up in his flat near the Ego packaging factory in potato fields. The employees' quarters are close to the packing house, about two to three kilometres from nearby villages. The 15-20 workers live on site.

Mr Wanchai lived downstairs together with the field workers, picking potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

"There were rockets as usual," the chilling story begins.

"At 10am, a group of 10-20 terrorists arrived, all Hamas members disguised as IDF soldiers. I hid with friends in the kitchen. Then we debated what to do. Some said that it was not a good idea to run to the orange plantation.

"We didn't think the terrorists would come back. News on social media showed there was an intrusion, but we didn't understand the wider scope of the events that day.

"I went into my room and listened to music. My friends, about 14 of them, sat outside. At 2 or 3pm, many more terrorists arrived in cars. Suddenly, I see that the room is on fire, everything around me is burning.

"I didn't know what to do. If I went outside, Hamas terrorists would murder me. If I stayed, I would die from the smoke that choked me and the fire that burned me. In the end, I went outside. No one was there anymore."

Mr Wanchai would later learn that some of his friends had been murdered, and two were kidnapped.

"I was standing outside and didn't know where to run. Finally, I hid between chilli pepper bushes we grow nearby.

"I sat covered in the bushes and waited. I heard voices, but I didn't come out of hiding. I didn't know if they were Israeli soldiers or the terrorists."

That night, after returning to the quarters to look for a first aid bag, Mr Wanchai heard a helicopter. He spotted a flashlight in the building and sent an SOS signal to the pilot.

The helicopter circled above a few times before finally leaving the area. It turned out that the pilot did not know whether it was a victim signalling or a terrorist trap.

On the ground, Mr Wanchai felt a sense of losing hope.

He knew his time was running out. "I dragged myself to the road", his expression contorted with the memory of the pain. "Slowly, as much as I could." It was 200-300 metres, but on burnt feet, it felt as if he was running a thousand marathons. It wasn't until the next afternoon that Israeli soldiers rescued and escorted him to Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva. Later, he was transferred to Sheba Medical Center.

The distance of mourning

As Mr Wanchai's wounds heal, Israel continues to identify the dead, murdered by Hamas terrorists. Ten dead from Nepal, and more were killed from Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Some 39 Thai victims have been identified, alongside 30 abductees. The dead were flown back to Thailand with dual state ceremonies -- on their departure from Israel and on arrival in Thailand -- book-ending the journey.

Israel's Ambassador to Thailand, Orna Sagiv, acknowledged every one of the victims in Thailand as she lay a wreath on each coffin.

Somkuan Pansa-ard's body was returned to his village Ban Nong Wong Thai in Kalasin province. He was 39 years old and had worked in a banana plantation near the border with Gaza for just three months prior to the horror of that day.

Somkuan served in the Thai army and then worked as a taxi driver in Thailand. He was the family's sole breadwinner and came to work in Israel to support his family.

In the house, mirrors were covered. A Buddhist custom similar to Jewish mourning.

Khraboan Pansa-ard, his father, says, "This is the greatest loss of my life. I have never been this devastated before."

Noopar Pansa-ard, his mother, says Somkuan told her on the phone: "Mom, If something happens to me, please stay strong."

She answered: "My heart will shatter if you don't return", pleading with him to come back home.

In Nakhon Phanom, the home of abducted Thai worker Natthaporn On-Kaew, the family awaits his return.

Hawatchai On-Kaew, Natthaporn's father, is almost in tears.

"I can't do anything. We have had no news for quite a while. It's hard on my heart. I'm deeply sad that my son was abducted."

Thongkoon On-Kaew, Natthaporn's mother, wishes for her son to return safely: "I can't wait anymore. Give me back my child. Bring my son home."

The Thai government is conducting negotiations with Hamas to release its abducted citizens, in addition to Israel's effort to release all those kidnapped. About 240 people were kidnapped that day by Hamas. Among them, 30 Thai citizens. More are still missing.

The Thai Labour Ministry sent 35 DNA samples taken from families in Thailand to help identify their missing loved ones among the unidentified bodies.

When Mr Wanchai updates his family on his condition. He cries only when he talks about his parents and wipes the tears from his eyes with burnt fingers. He passes them the news in small doses so as not to break their hearts.

Mr Wanchai has not had the chance to visit home since arriving in Israel four years ago.

He is a young, new grandfather.

The grandson

Mr Wanchai had only seen his eight-month-old grandson during video calls and would only call his 10-year-old daughter after she returned from school so as not to bother her studies.

When Mr Wanchai woke up after surgery following the attack, he found that all his belongings had been burned that day.

Soon, visitors came showing love and bringing gifts, but this morning, after surgery, he remained alone. Bandaged from head to toe in a large, sterile room.

His smile occasionally turns to tears before he quickly smiles again.

Why did he come to Israel?

"I wanted to rest, get to work quietly. I worked nine years in Sweden, for three months each year during harvest season, until I got tired. I knew nothing about Israel.

Mr Wanchai's village is about 85km away from Nong Khai province. A real paradise. his wife lives there in a small stone house, raising their daughter and grandson born to his 20-year-old elder son. His son and his wife went to work on a chicken farm in another district and had to leave their son with his grandmother.

Ran Ezer is the East Asia correspondent of the Yedioth Ahronoth Daily newspaper and Channel 12 TV NEWS Israel.

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