Hajirah Farooq’s battle with infantile leukaemia captured the hearts of UAE residents. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Hajirah Farooq’s battle with infantile leukaemia captured the hearts of UAE residents in December 2018, with many supporting her family with funds needed for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. Months later, however, the then one-year-old succumbed to her disease, leaving her family grief-stricken.

Since then, her parents and two older brothers have been adjusting to a life without her and it has been extremely difficult.

“In her brief life of nearly 24 months, she was barely home with us as a family. We were constantly shuttling to and from the hospital, trying to ensure she had a fighting chance at survival. It was a very different existence, yet one we would much rather have if it would mean having darling Hajirah with us,” Habiba Farooq, her mother, told Gulf News.

Sudden illness

The little girl was born in May 2017, bringing much joy to her parents — a Pakistani transport coordinator and a homemaker living in Abu Dhabi. “It was an uncomplicated pregnancy and for about two months after she was born, we were happy at home with our newborn,” Mohammad Farooq, Habiba’s father told Gulf News.

Hajirah Farooq and her parents Mohammad and Habiba.-1633670677173
Hajirah Farooq with her parents Mohammad and Habiba and her two brothers. Image Credit: Supplied

Then, when she was about two months old, the little girl developed a fever that had to be treated with antibiotics. Days later, she experienced her first seizure.

Cancer diagnosis

“I remember rushing her to hospital and the subsequent visits with specialists. I was in the hospital with her for a full 40 days, not knowing what was wrong. We even spent Eid at the hospital. After dozens of tests and consultations, when the doctors finally told us it was cancer, it felt like the earth had cleaved apart,” Habiba said.

As cliched as it may sound, Habiba and Mohammad said they sincerely do not wish this fate on anyone else.

“Our life changed. We were constantly taking Hajirah to the hospital for treatment or evaluation, and the staff at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) — where she was mostly admitted — got used to seeing our sons, then aged three and five, in the waiting room with one of us, while the other tended to Hajirah,” Habiba said.

Treasured memories

The family tried to do whatever they could to spend time together and took Hajirah home between treatments. Meanwhile, they also captured as much of her in video clips as they could. “She did not get much time with her brothers, but she loved them to bits. Once, after I was able to take her younger brother, Dawood, to see her at the hospital, she appeared to be berating him for not coming to see her sooner,” Habiba recounted. On another occasion, she rushed to her father when he returned from work, complaining of a headache. “I had only said that my head was hurting, when she dropped everything and came to me to rub my temples. She had such a caring streak to her,” Mohammad said.

Transplant efforts

In December 2018, after being told she needed a lifesaving bone marrow transplant, Mohammad made an appeal for funds to residents across the UAE. His plea was published in Gulf News, and within days, support poured in. A philanthropist offered the family a chance at treatment in Pakistan, given that the particular care was not yet available in the UAE. Within days, the family rushed off to Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, where she began receiving chemotherapy.

“She was scheduled to receive chemotherapy for about two months, before the transplant could be scheduled. But her body was already ravaged, having survived pneumonia a few months earlier. So, when she developed typhoid, she could not fight it,” Mohammad said.

Hajirah Farooq1-1633670679031
The family tried to do whatever they could to spend time together and took Hajirah home between treatments. Image Credit: Supplied

Cancer death

On May 15, 2019, just six days short of her second birthday, Hajirah passed away in her parents’ arms. After completing the funeral procedures, the family eventually returned to the UAE.

“We had accepted her passing as God’s will and knew we would strive to honour her even in death. But it was very hard returning to her toys and clothes, scattered all across our Abu Dhabi home,” Habiba said.

More hurdles

There was another hurdle that awaited the family.

“We had left in a hurry and because we did not know how long we would be in Pakistan, we had applied to vacate our flat. But the property management company said we had to give them at least three months’ notice and we just didn’t have that much of time. So we had simply locked up and left. When we returned about five months later, we were presented with a hefty bill for breach of contract,” Mohammad said. After negotiating with the authorities, the amount was reduced to a year’s rent, plus maintenance charges.

Hajirah Farooq644-1633670682609
Hajirah with her mother Habiba Farooq. Image Credit: Supplied

“I applied to pay this in instalments, especially since my earnings were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But the request has still not been granted and we are still trying to settle this,” Mohammad said.

Picking up the pieces

At the same time, settling into their Abu Dhabi life was not easy. “There were so many memories, so we took to reliving them by watching Hajirah’s video clips. Meanwhile, we also had to reenrol our sons in school and help them catch up,” Habiba said.

Read more

Mohammad added that the couple now try to contribute funds, whenever possible, for the treatment of other cancer-stricken children. “We were grateful to Allah, and to everyone who helped us in our time of need. In memory of our beautiful daughter, we now try to do whatever little bit we can,” the father added.