x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The smile that launched The National

Nabeel Kamran's laughing face was the first to be pictured on the cover of The National five years ago. At the time he was recovering from lifesaving kidney surgery. Today he is the very picture of health.

Nabeel Kamran, 17, pages through the first copy of The National newspaper. He was 12 when his story about a successful kidney transplant was published on page one. Pawan Singh / The National
Nabeel Kamran, 17, pages through the first copy of The National newspaper. He was 12 when his story about a successful kidney transplant was published on page one. Pawan Singh / The National

Nabeel Kamran's laughing face was the first to be pictured on the cover of The National. At the time he was recovering from lifesaving kidney surgery. Today he is the very picture of health, reports Mitya Underwood

ABU DHABI // Five years after his smiling face appeared on the front page of The National's first edition, Nabeel Kamran is almost unrecognisable.

With his hair flicked to one side and his trendy, thick-rimmed glasses, the 17-year-old is all grown up.

Back in 2008, when he was just 12, Nabeel became the first child in the UAE to undergo a life-saving kidney transplant - a medical landmark for the country.

Now a young man, he is counting down the days until he turns 18 in June so he can get his driving licence and embark on his final year at school.

Five years ago, his parents were not even sure he would live to be a teenager, let alone an ambitious student who dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer.

When Nabeel's kidneys failed in January 2008, his parents Soofia Kamran and Kamran Qureshi were told their son's only chance of survival was an organ transplant.

The family, who live in Sharjah, still recall the relief they felt when their saviour arrived in the form of Nabeel's aunt, Naghmi Arshed.

She travelled from Pakistan for an operation to remove half of her healthy organ and give it to her nephew.

Since the operation, Nabeel has gone from strength to strength and is preparing to sit his summer exams at the Oxford School in Dubai.

"My health has been great. Other than the operation scar and the medicines, nobody could say that I have had a transplant," he said, sitting in the family home he shares with his parents, his 11-year-old sister Zoha, and brother Sohaib, 15.

"I don't think that the transplant had any effect on the quality of my life. The only thing that has changed is the need to keep track of time because of the medications.

"The hospital was definitely the worst part. I remember being annoyed every time a nurse came in. They used to come in and inject me with medicine and take my blood pressure every couple of hours or so. The hospital gown was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever worn.

"If I had to make a list of the most uncomfortable times in my life up until now, it would be safe to say that the time in the hospital would be on the top."

Nabeel is acutely aware that he owes his life to his aunt, the first cousin of his mother, who returned to Pakistan after the operation.

"Not many people would do what she has done for me and I am very grateful to her for that. She is a lady from heaven. I would like to wish her good health and long life."

The UAE has been struggling in recent years to complete legislation governing organ transplants. Despite various amendments and additions being signed off, there are still relatively few transplants performed each year.

Nabeel became the country's first kidney transplant patient younger than 16 after his operation in February 2008 at Sharjah's Al Qassimi Hospital.

Initially, his parents wanted to fly him to Pakistan but were persuaded by medics that he would be safe having the procedure here.

His parents also opted not to tell their son what was happening until the 11th hour.

After finding out, Nabeel watched a YouTube video of a similar operation being performed.

"I was afraid of how he would react," said Mrs Kamran. "He was very young and I wasn't sure he would understand everything. It was a scary time for all of us."

Two months after his operation, when Nabeel was out of danger, the family agreed to share their story with The National on the newspaper's very first front page.

"I remember someone saying, jokingly of course, that people would want my autograph after seeing my photo," Nabeel said.

"We kept a newspaper and we sent one to our family in Pakistan. They showed everyone. I also remember seeing it in someone's car; it was funny. But I still don't know why people are interested, I'm still not sure."

Nabeel says his best friends Ali Muzaffar, Imran Idrees and Marjan Kareem, all 16, helped him to recover from the operation and cope with school once he returned.

"When I first went to school after the surgery, they were really cautious with me and thought I was too fragile. As they learnt more about the operation and my health, their attitude towards me became more normal. Now, they treat me as they treat all their other friends."

The UAE still doesn't have a donor registry list, where people can register as a donor either before or after death.

Currently, transplants usually involve immediate family members.

But Nabeel, who owes his life to organ donation, said he would happily put himself forward as donor.

"I'd do it because I think it would make me feel good about myself and I'd know that I had given somebody a second chance in life."

munderwood@thenational.ae