x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rare heart tumour girl praises her surgeons

Only the eighth person in the world known to suffer a rare cancer, Anoud Faraj is out of hospital and looking forward to summer.

Anoud Faraj, 13, left, with her mother Suhair Khalil, at a press conference at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, yesterday.
Anoud Faraj, 13, left, with her mother Suhair Khalil, at a press conference at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, yesterday.

ABU DHABI // When Anoud Faraj went into hospital, surgeons told her they would be performing a simple procedure to withdraw water from her chest. In fact, they had rather more ambitious, and risky, plans. The 13-year-old schoolgirl was suffering from an extremely rare type of tumour on her heart - so rare that only seven similar cases had been reported previously anywhere in the world - and she needed a three-and-a-half-hour operation to remove it.

There was, doctors estimated, a 50 per cent chance that she would not survive the surgery. "I didn't know how bad it was," Anoud said yesterday as the medical team announced that the procedure had been a success. "They only told me after the operation." When she first became ill, her parents thought she had appendicitis. "I first noticed a problem in April," said Suhair Khalil, her mother. "She had abdominal pain and was exhausted. Her skin was a little yellow as well. I would send her to school but the school would send her home because she was too sick to study."

Anoud was admitted to a hospital in Sharjah to have her appendix removed. But the pain in her stomach continued and her legs became swollen. A scan revealed the 7cm tumour and she was transferred to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, where surgeons faced the difficult task of removing the entire growth without damaging her heart. They operated on May 10. "It is quite challenging to do such a rare cardiac surgery because of the high incidence of the complications," said Dr Scott Strong, the hospital's chief executive.

"On the other hand, it is the most rewarding experience to see this young lady recover after surgery and go home with a healthy heart." Dr Gregory Eising, the hospital's head of adult cardiac surgery, added: "The techniques used in the surgery are cutting-edge in the field of cardiac surgery." Without it, he said, Anoud "could have died only a few days later". Now, she can look forward to a normal life.

The doctors who looked after her during her recovery in the cardiac intensive care unit said they had enjoyed looking after a young patient. "We liked it very much to treat different kinds of patients, we usually treat elderly people," said Dr Peter Lembach, head of the unit. "Sometime she was a little bit demanding, but this is related to her age. She knew, very well, how to cope with us." And Anoud, who now keeps a picture of Dr Lembach with her, had only good things to say about her stay.

While she sometimes found it lonely - she is the third of seven siblings - she was able to entertain herself in the hospital with her favourite hobby, drawing. School friends also came to visit and she was supported by her best friend, Noorah. "My brothers and sisters were supportive, and I missed them in the hospital," she said. "I was happy and surrounded by all the doctors. I was OK." Now out of hospital, she will be spending her summer in Jordan.

"After the operation I feel strong," she said smiling widely, "but my mum is always worrying about me." Her mother, however, is well aware of how close she came to losing her daughter. "I drew strength from the prayers of people around me," said Mrs Khalil. "I believe in Allah, and I believe Allah was with me and my daughter." @Email:amcmeans@thenational.ae