Lea with her mother Michelle Joven. Lea is on high-dose steroids, antifungals and anti-viral drugs that has led to her weight balooning by 10kg. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/XPRESS

Dubai: As eight-year-old Lea Joven continues to wage battle against leukaemia which has afflicted her for the past four years, life must go on for her debtstricken parents.

Lea, the elder daughter of Leo and Michelle Joven, has undergone over 10 chemotherapy sessions since July 2008 after being diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukaemia (AML).

Leo, who works as a company nurse at Dubai Dry Docks, borrowed Dh200,000 from a Dubai bank in 2008 payable in six years for the treatment of his daughter.

With no health insurance for their children and mounting medical bills, the Jovens were also forced to sell two plots of land in their hometown of Bacolod in the Philippines and the family car. Lea’s paternal grandparents’ ancestral home was also pawned.

Unable to pay for their credit cards, their bank fortunately agreed to convert their credit card transactions – mostly medical bills – into a personal loan which significantly reduced the interest. Still the loan payments ballooned to Dh4,000 a month, eating up more than half of the family’s income.

Keen to give her a chance

But the Jovens were keen to give their daughter a fighting chance. Lea underwent a successful bone-marrow transplant from a fully-matched unrelated donor from Taiwan in January 2011 at St Lukes in Manila. That treatment cost over Php4 million (Dh400,000), funded through charity, loans and property sale.

While her AML went into remission, complications set in scuttling her parents’ plan to send her to school. Dr Abdul Rahman Al Jasmi, consultant paediatrician and haematologist/oncologist at Dubai Hospital, described Lea’s current condition in a July 5 medical report as “steroid-refractory chronic GVHD (graft-versus-host disease) of the lung”. This has led to bronchiolitis obliterans — which causes dyspnea, cough, wheezing and problems with her pulmonary function.

The doctor recommends treatment in an advanced paediatric cancer and chest centre abroad, but initial estimates showit would cost at least Dh300,000.

Dr Al Jasmi has referred the family to a children’s specialist hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, but with mounting debts and no money, the Jovens are stuck in Dubai. “We thought she could finally go to school,” said Michelle. “She is still fighting. Even when she’s in pain, she avoids making a fuss, because she does not want to bother me knowing our financial condition.”

Lea’s breathing difficulties are caused by the compression and obliteration of the airway, relieved by pumping two litres of oxygen per minute. She is on high-dose steroids, antifungals and anti-viral drugs.

Dubai residents have earlier helped raise funds for Lea’s bone marrow transplant.

“What happened with her – and with us – is more than a miracle,” said Michelle. While the transplant was successful, it was short lived. The complications further sunk the Jovens into deeper financial pain.

Now, Michelle has renewed her appeal to good Samaritans for more help. Due to the use of steroids from January this year, Lea has put on an extra 10kg of weight. While her respiratory distress has improved, she still has laboured

“We’ve been extremely grateful for the many generous people who have helped us get Lea this far. She has a big fighting chance because she has already overcome so much. We just don’t want to let her go without a fight.”