Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Dubai filmmaker refuses to give up on wife in coma

Jonathan Ali Khan hopes to fly Jody Ann to Europe for treatment even though doctors say she’s unlikely to recover

Jody Ann Rodriguez’s son Lucas and her husband, the wildlife filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan, read and played music to her in hospital after she slipped into a coma. Rodriguez died on Sunday. Reem Mohammed / The National
Jody Ann Rodriguez’s son Lucas and her husband, the wildlife filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan, read and played music to her in hospital after she slipped into a coma. Rodriguez died on Sunday. Reem Mohammed / The National

A Dubai man has refused to give up hope after his wife slipped into a coma after an asthma attack.

Underwater filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan has been at the hospital bedside of Jody Ann, 56, since the attack on June 29.

He said Ms Ali Khan’s brain had been starved of oxygen for about 45 minutes.

“She is totally dependent on life support,” said Mr Ali Khan, 58, who has been told by doctors that his wife has a one per cent chance of recovery.

For him, this is enough “to keep on believing”.

“I still feel the energy around her. I know she is there but the science tells us differently,” he said.

Many more researchers are finding that brain cells can regenerate, so I refuse to accept that it is wrong to keep her alive

Jonathan Ali Khan

The family has accrued large hospital bills since Ms Ali Khan’s admission 10 days ago and he now owes about Dh100,000.

His wife experienced breathing difficulties and then seizures after an asthma attack two weekends ago.

“Jody has always suffered from asthma. She needs to use an inhaler daily and, occasionally, she ends up on a nebuliser,” he said.

That Saturday, though, the nebuliser did not seem to help. By the time an ambulance arrived, 25 minutes later, Ms Ali Khan’s face was blue and she was having convulsions.

Her condition was stabilised in the emergency room of a nearby hospital but by the time treatment was administered, 45 minutes had passed without oxygen reaching her brain, leading to swelling, brain damage and loss of consciousness.

“People are offering blessings and prayers from all denominations,” said Mr Ali Khan, who has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years. He has been trying to raise funds from friends and family in the UK.

Only days before tragedy struck, the wildlife filmmaker, whose portfolio includes the documentaries Arabia’s Cycle of Life and Arabia’s Sharks: A Journey of Discovery, had signed a contract for a big project in Saudi Arabia.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates- July 26, 2011: Jonathan Ali Khan a local Wildlife Documenty Film Maker pose during the interview at his residence in Dubai. ( Satish Kumar / The National )
Jonathan is a renowned underwater filmmaker who has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years. Satish Kumar / The National

It was a much-needed break for the family, whose savings had been wiped out a year ago after Mr Ali Khan was diagnosed with heart failure and pulmonary oedema and was unable to work. Prior to the Saturday morning on which his wife took ill, she had been helping with his recuperation.

His family had been without medical insurance for a prolonged period, which is why Ms Ali Khan’s treatment is not covered.

“As a business always working close to the edge of margins, insurance was at the bottom of our list of priorities unless linked to specific projects,” he said.

“In my previous company, Ocean World Productions, I took insurance for everyone. But after setting up Wild Planet I didn’t continue – my greatest regret.”

In the coming days, the family has some tough choices to make. There is the medical bill of over Dh100,000, accrued so far – an “incredible expense” that Mr Ali Khan is unable to pay.

Then, there is the uncertainty of whether the hospital will continue treatment. Advice from a third-party neurologist is being sought to ascertain the level of brain damage his wife has suffered.

There is also the question of how irreversible brain damage is defined. Traditionally, the medical field has held that once brain damage occurs, it cannot be reversed. But the family are buoyed by recent discoveries of the adult brain’s ability to grow new nerve cells that are challenging the orthodoxy and a quest is on for new therapies to cure brain damage.

This year, an Emirati woman made global headlines when she woke from a coma after 27 years.

Mr Ali Khan hopes new treatments will be able to help his wife. He is in contact with university hospitals in the US and Switzerland that specialise in such cases, although he would need to pay hundreds of thousands of dirhams for a medical flight there, if one admitted her.

“In the case of deep coma, there are many stories of lost causes regaining consciousness, and then there is also the argument that some doctors are disagreeing with the older belief that brain cells do not regenerate,” he said.

“Many more researchers are finding that brain cells can regenerate, so I refuse to accept that it is wrong to keep her alive.”

Updated: July 10, 2019 02:19 PM

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