Abu Dhabi: It has been an interminable year for Nahl Khaled and her family. The 10-year-old was diagnosed with an acute blood cancer, and the rest of the journey has been a blur for her family as they race to help her beat the disease.
Nahl recently received a bone marrow transplant. But Nahl’s mother is by her bedside round-the-clock, while her father flits to and from another hospital room, where her five-year-old brother recovers after donating his bone marrow. Nahl’s older brother remains home with his grandmother, unsure of whether he will be attending classes when the new academic year starts.
“I can barely describe the past few months to you,” Nahl’s father, Khaled Fayyaz, tells Gulf News as he fights to hold back his tears.
The 46-year-old Pakistani expat is a production supervisor based in Abu Dhabi, and was shocked to receive his daughter’s diagnosis on January 24.
“My daughter had been easily fatigued for a while, and appeared pale. One day, she had fainted, and we had rushed her to the hospital, suspecting that she was simply anaemic. A day or two later, we were surprised when her doctor asked us to rush to another hospital – the Burjeel Medical City,” Fayyaz said.
There, the doctors told Fayyaz and his wife that Nahl had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, an aggressive type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells. There appeared to be some hope, as the doctor said most children are able to beat the disease with a month-long treatment plan that involves chemotherapy and medication.
The family embarked on the treatment, spending the better part of the month shuttling to and from the hospital. While Fayyaz and his wife assisted their daughter, Nahl’s grandmother came down from Pakistan to tend to her two brothers at home.
A month later, however, there were still cancer cells remaining when Nahl was tested.
“The doctors said another two-month treatment cycle would help, and that more than 90 per cent of children recover afterwards. We were hopeful, only to learn that Nahl still had cancer cells two months later. I knew then that this is all a divine test of patience. My daughter continued to smile throughout her pain, and we had to help her keep fighting,” Fayyaz said.
After much consultation with experts abroad, Nahl was prescribed two six-day regimens of high-dose chemotherapy. This would help prepare for what she needed – a bone-marrow transplant.
Bone marrow transplant
“It was gruelling and by then, my daughter had lost her hair. But she persevered, and this time, there were no cancer cells detected in her bloodstream. Meanwhile, it turned out that our younger son was a perfect match for our daughter’s bone marrow, something that doesn’t always happen,” Fayyaz said.
It was not an easy decision for the family, especially as the donation procedure can also be painful for the donor. But it was the best medical solution for Nahl, and her five-year-old brother donated his bone marrow on August 17.
The next three months will now be crucial in determining whether the procedure has been successful. Meanwhile, both Nahl and her younger brother remain hospitalised.
“My daughter has always been the kindest soul, with so much consideration for her parents and people around her. She loves her arts and her crafts, and I keep waiting for the day when we can take her home without being worried about her health. I cannot wait to see her thrive again. I am also terribly proud of my young son for what he has endured,” Fayyaz said while sitting at his son’s bedside.
The family now has to foot a Dh300,000 bill for the transplant procedure. Fayyaz said with his limited resources, he could not even send his eldest son to school when the new academic year begins later this month.
“I am not sure how we will pay it off. I am only grateful that the generosity of the UAE leadership, the hospital, its medical professionals, its staff, my colleagues, our neighbours, my children’s school, and so many other people around us have seen us this far. Nowhere else could we hope for such big-heartedness. I only hope and pray that Nahl, our darling angel, will come out of all this hale and healthy,” Fayyaz said.
Nahl’s teachers are also all praise for the brave girl.
“She and her brothers are such kindhearted children, and so good at their academics. We have been distraught ever since we heard of her cancer diagnosis. In fact, we heard earlier that Nahl was feeling down when she began losing her hair as a result of the chemo, so a number of us school staff cut our hair in solidarity, and to give her strength,” said Shanti Joshy, secondary supervisor at the International Indian School.