x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Parrot for a princess, a dream come true

A young girl with a life-threatening illness is granted her wish of owning a talking parrot.

Huda, an Emirati, was born three months premature with a massive teratoma, or encapsulated tumour, attached to her tongue.
Huda, an Emirati, was born three months premature with a massive teratoma, or encapsulated tumour, attached to her tongue.

ABU DHABI // Huda Mohammed Karam's eyes lit up with joy when she peeked through the door and saw the parrot in a golden cage.

Dressed in a blue princess outfit, Huda, 9, made her way to the cage in delight.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to making the wishes of sick children come true, fulfilled the little girl's dream of owning a talking parrot yesterday.

Huda, an Emirati, was born four months premature with a massive teratoma, or encapsulated tumour, attached to her tongue.

Her mother, Kareema Al Bishri, said she knew something was wrong when she was four months pregnant.

"When I saw my doctor, she did an ultrasound and informed me of the tumour but said to wait another month before making any final decisions," Mrs Al Bishri said.

"After doing another exam during my fifth month, they said I have to give birth as soon as possible."

When Huda was born at Saqr Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah, her chances of survival were slim.

"They said they'll monitor her for a week to see how she progresses," Mrs Al Bishri said. "They didn't think she'd live beyond that."

To the doctors' surprise, Huda made it through the first week. She was then transferred to Al Mafraq hospital where doctors removed the enormous tumour.

Huda weighed 1.4 kilograms at birth, but after surgery that was down to a mere 400 grams.

Although the tumour was benign, the invasive procedure cost her the feeling in part of her tongue and she still cannot speak properly.

"Many of the nerve endings were attached to the tumour and she lost many of these nerves in the procedure, causing the right side of her tongue to be paralysed," said Mrs Al Bishra.

At eight months old, swelling caused breathing complications for Huda. Her family took her to London where she received a tracheotomy, allowing her to breathe directly through a tube inserted in her throat. She also underwent a gastrostomy, a surgical opening in the stomach that allows for direct food intake.

After the swelling in her throat went down, doctors closed both openings. Huda was then about a year old.

Despite experiencing such invasive procedures from such a tender age, Huda's resilience can be seen through her daily interaction with friends and family.

The semi-paralysis in her tongue does not prevent her from trying to speak.

"She'll try to pronounce various letters of the alphabet, which would normally require her tongue with her lips," Mrs Al Bishri said. "We teach her at home but she also does very well in school."

Huda sees a doctor and speech therapist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

"They have given us tips and advice on how to guide her to eat and speak, and we try to follow them to the core," Mrs Al Bishri said.

Melanie Raymer, the community and administrative co-ordinator at Make-A-Wish Foundation UAE, said there were an estimated 1,800 children between the ages of three and 18 who are living with life-threatening conditions in the country.

About half of these children are cancer patients, while the others are almost all sufferers of the inherited blood condition thalassaemia, which affects the body's ability to manufacture haemoglobin.

The foundation has recently sent a child to EuroDisney, given another a one-day pass to Ferrari World with an overnight stay at Yas Hotel, and allowed another to experience life as a policeman for a day.

"Most of the funding for our wishes comes from fund-raising events or from corporate sponsors," Ms Raymer said.

The organisation has two offices, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But wishes are granted for children across the country, regardless of nationality.

Huda stroked the parrot and smiled broadly while friends and family tried to make the bird repeat the words they were saying.

When Mrs Al Bishri saw how happy her beautiful little daughter was, she could not be more grateful.

"It's amazing how children can also express these complex emotions in the midst of life's hardships," she said.

"It's truly a miracle."