x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE family's race against time to raise Dh600,000 to save cancer girl

A bone-marrow transplant is Martina's best hope of a long and healthy life. But while a donor in Germany has been found, the family does not have the money for the operation.

Martina Thomas needs a bone marrow transplant and a match has been found in Germany but the family needs Dh600,000. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Martina Thomas needs a bone marrow transplant and a match has been found in Germany but the family needs Dh600,000. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // When Martina Thomas turned 11 on June 4 last year there was no birthday party. Instead, the little girl began chemotherapy.

She had been admitted to hospital a few days earlier with a high temperature and pain in her limbs.

Dolly Mathew expected her eldest daughter to be suffering from a fever or an infection. Her world shattered when initial tests showed Martina's symptoms were far more serious.

Martina, who was born in India, was found to have an abnormally high white blood-cell count and was transferred to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi for further examination. Doctors there diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a childhood cancer.

"I nearly died myself," says Mrs Mathew, 42. Martina, a high-risk patient, immediately began a course of chemotherapy but the treatment was not enough to stem the cancer - she needed a bone-marrow transplant.

When Martina's extended family, including her mother, father Shaji Thomas, 43, brother Ken, 9, and sister Karen, 4, were screened for a match, none was found.

With this form of leukaemia, it is often the case that family members are not compatible but complete strangers can be.

With help from the hospital, the family looked further afield, and contacted the international Bone Marrow Database Worldwide, a voluntary effort that brings donors together.

In March, a perfect match was found in Germany and the donor is ready and waiting, but there was further heartache for the family.

Because the procedure is not available in the UAE, patients have to travel abroad for treatment. They were told the cost of the operation at the specialist Christian Medical College in Tamil Nadu, India, and of flights, accommodation, post-operative care and medication would be Dh600,000.

With the family surviving on salesman Shaji's wages, they have been unable to raise any money yet themselves.

Mrs Mathew is now hoping for generous-minded people to come forward and pledge money towards the cost of the operation, without which Martina faces a bleak future.

Until she receives a life-saving transplant, she will continue to receive courses of chemotherapy in a bid to halt the disease's progress. "I was very happy when a donor was found but now I am praying only for the transplant to take place," said Mrs Mathew. "We just desperately need the money. It would mean the world."

Wrapped up in her favourite pink Cinderella blanket in her hospital bed as antibiotics are pumped into her body, Martina struggles to stay brave. Despite regular admission to hospital and suffering from many side effects, including back pain, pneumonia and several bouts of fever, she insists she is not in pain.

However, she desperately wants to get better and return to the life she once had.

She misses her younger brother and sister and wants to return to school so she can attend art class. "It is my favourite class," she said with a smile. "I love to draw."

"I miss my friends, too."

Doctors say a bone-marrow transplant is Martina's best hope of a long and healthy life.

"She has been in hospital a lot," said Mrs Mathew. "At school she was very active - drawing, singing, dancing - she misses that.

"But, for now, it is just a waiting game."

Any contribution towards Martina's treatment can be sent by cheque made out to the Treasurer, Christian Medical College, Vellore, indicating the patient's name with hospital number (254015F). Alternatively, call Mrs Mathew on 055 390 1315.

jbell@thenational.ae