Dubai: Seven-year-old Aidan Snyman is no ordinary boy. Born prematurely at 25 weeks, he lost a leg when he was just a few days old and is since being fed through tubes. He is also autistic.
However, none of this has deterred the braveheart from topping every swimming competition he has taken part at school.
A Grade 2 student at Dubai’s Star International School (Al Twar), Aidan has defied the odds with rare grit and gumption befitting his Irish name meaning ‘Eternal flame.’
“Aidan is a very intelligent, brave and happy child. But bringing him up has been a huge financial challenge. We’ve racked up Dh2 million in debts since his birth,” said his mother Allegra Alhadeff, 34. Her husband, Alan Snyman, 41, is a chef with the Rotana group of hotels in Dubai.
Aidan was born to the Spanish couple on February 12, 2005, when they were in South Africa. Their younger daughter Alea is six years old. Aidan weighed just 500gm at birth and had to spend six months in ICU. “He lost his left leg to gangrene just a week after he was born. Due to trauma to his nerves, he cannot swallow solids. He has always been underweight and feeding him has been a nightmare,” said Alhadeff, who used to work as a paramedic.
Aidan who now weighs 22kg has been on a liquid diet since his birth and is tube-fed through a hole in his stomach. He underwent surgery last October — the fifth in the last seven years — to replace his feeding tube.
Though he has never tasted food, Aidan wants to be a chef when he grows up. “He is a fighter. We are trying to give him our best. But we cannot afford much as my husband is still paying off the enormous debts incurred by us for Aidan’s medical treatment,” said Alhadeff, who is pregnant with a third child. She was due on February 17 but has to undergo a caesaerean operation next Thursday as she has high blood pressure.
She said only Dh500,000 out of Dh2 million was covered by insurance in South Africa and her husband had to take up a job in Saudi Arabia to clear the debts. But emergencies kept dogging the family. In 2010 Alhadeff contracted H1N1 virus in Dubai and slipped into coma. After her hospital bills shot up to Dh500,000 she was repatriated to Spain and spent over six months in rehabilitation.
“My husband has no life. Most of his earnings go towards paying medical bills,” said Alhadeff.
Aidan’s prosthetic leg has broken but his spirt remains unbending. Even as his parents struggle to raise Dh35,000 to buy a new prosthetic, Aidan has not allowed the disability to tie him down. He not just moves around without support but is also able to swim.
“He just loves swimming and has topped every swimming contest in school. We want to buy him a silicon prosthetic leg that can be used in water, but it’s too expensive.”
Aidan got a prosthetic from the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Charity last year.
He needs to replace his prostehetic as he grows up.
Aidan’s class teacher Victoria Anderson said Aidan is very popular. “He is very active and involves himself in all activities. He is exceptionally good in maths and swimming,” she said.
Being autistic Aidan has learning difficulties and has to undergo occupational and speech therapies every week in addition to weekly physiotherapy sessions. “No medical insurance covers prosthetic support or the physiotherapy that goes along with it. Each speech and occupational therapy session sets us back by Dh900 besides physiotherapy which costs Dh700.”
Dh150 a tin
The liquid formula that Aidan is fed costs Dh150 a tin and the boy needs four to five tins a month. This is in addition to the Dh30,000 the couple must pay annually to pay for the special mentor Aidan needs at school to support his learning. His school tuition fees come to another Dh25,000 a year.
“It has been a huge emotional challenge and financial nightmare for us. Aidan has immense talent. As parents we want to give him our best but there is only so much we can do,” said Alhadeff.
The family is seeking financial help to meet the medical expenses of bringing up Aidan.
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