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Yemeni child Ala Waleed from Dubai underwent a successful liver transplant at a hospital in Calicut, India. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A seven-year-old Dubai resident, suffering from a congenital condition that severely damaged her liver, was able to fly back after surgeons in India saved her life with a liver transplant at a highly subsidised cost.

Ala Waleed, a Yemeni expatriate living with her family in Dubai, received the successful liver transplant at Aster MIMS, Calicut, India, this January. The patient flew to India in November 2021 in preparation for the transplant and the liver donor was the patient’s 22-year-old elder sister, Ruqaiah Waleed. She donated a portion of her liver through a laparoscopic donor surgery. After the surgery, the family flew back to Dubai earlier this month.

The surgery was carried out in India in order to keep expenses to a minimum. Ala was provided support for her transplant under the subsidised paediatric liver transplant programme of Aster MIMS, recently announced by Dr Azad Moopen, chairman of Aster DM Healthcare. The programme has helped many children suffering from serious liver diseases.

Subsidised treatment costs

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Abraham Mammen, the chief medical superintendent at Aster MIMS, said that Ala had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disease in Dubai. “The little girl had been diagnosed with Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis (PFIC), a rare genetic disease in children that results from bile drainage disorders, secondary to liver cell bile transport errors. The build-up of bile components within liver cells causes progressive liver damage and cirrhosis. This resulted in liver cirrhosis and she was suffering from worsening jaundice and growth failure.”

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Seven-year-old patient Ala Waleed with her family members and the team of doctors at Aster MIMS, Calicut, India. Image Credit: Supplied

When does liver failure happen in children?

Dr Noushif M, surgical gastroenterologist, explained: “While the aetiology of liver cirrhosis remain undetermined in 30 per cent of the cases, it could happen in children because of genetic causes or due to the use of some hepatotoxin medications or out of liver cellular damage due to chronic conditions.”

He added: “The most common causes of liver cirrhosis in children is Biliary atresia (bile duct disorder), enzyme defects, Wilson’s disease, autoimmune disorders and so on. Alaa had a rare genetic disorder — Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC) — that alters the bile duct’s cellular transport system in liver.

Life-saving surgery

Guided by a group of Aster Volunteers to help this underprivileged family, the patient and her family reached Calicut for the surgery and consulted Dr Jibing Kamara, paediatric gastroenterologist at Aster MIMS. Commenting on the case, Dr Sajeesh Sahadevan, head of the transplant team at the hospital, said: “Liver transplantation is a very complex procedure. The transplant surgery can last for anything between nine-14 hours. It involves the removal of the damaged liver and placing the new liver and carrying out many vascular connections. Our Hepatobiliary surgical team, including Dr Noushif M., Dr Abishek and Dr Seetha, were supported by a hepatology team led by Dr Anish Kumar and led by Dr Kishore and Dr Rakesh.

While liver transplants happen in the UAE, the decision to have the transplant in Calicut was taken owing to the subsidised transplantation programme. “Liver transplants require specialised multidisciplinary teams and are performed worldwide. However, paediatric liver transplants are limited to certain centres. Our centre has catered to complex hepato-biliary surgeries to multiple patients from Middle East and has a reputation within the medical circles. This family came to know about our centre from another Yemeni national, who had liver transplant from Aster MIMS-Calicut for a complex vascular disease-related liver failure. So they felt confident about carrying out the surgery in Calicut.”

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Ala Waleed with her father Waleed Ali Abdo Ahmed. Image Credit: Supplied

A fresh lease of life

The little girl will now be able to lead a normal life, doctors said. She will have to continue immunosuppressive medications lifelong, which will be progressively tapered.

Ala will need follow-up consultations in Dubai with gastroenterologists from Aster DM Health care Group, who are working in tandem with their counterparts at the Calicut hospital.

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Gratitude to doctors

Ala’s father, Waleed Ali Abdo Ahmed, overwhelmed by the treatment his daughter received, told Gulf News: “In the dictionaries of all known languages, we cannot find a suitable word to express our appreciation, respect and love for these doctors at Aster MIMS. We will be forever indebted to them, particularly to Dr Jubin Kumar, Dr Sajeesh, Dr Anish and the team at Aster MIMS. They helped Ala believe in a positive journey of life, which is only beginning for her now. By giving Ala a new lease of life, they have provided us hope for a new dawn. This feeling is priceless.”