Abu Dhabi: A Filipino expat says he is in dire straits following a rare condition that has upended his life.
An employed father-of-one from Fujairah, 34-year-old Edrian Rafol Afuang is now unemployed, and confined to a hospital room without his family. As he awaits treatment for a complicated small bowel obstruction, he is also fearful of mounting debt, and worried about the future of his family.
“It all seemed to start on February 15. I had had lunch, but I developed a stomach ache that I could not ignore. A cup of tea did not help, and later in the evening, I vomited. By midnight, the pain had not subsided, and I knew something was wrong. So I told my wife, and we headed to a hospital,” Afuang told Gulf News.
Admitted to the ER, Afuang continued vomiting, and lab tests in the morning revealed a small bowel obstruction.
“The doctor at the Fujairah hospital told me I had adhesions in the intestines following an appendectomy done 15 years ago in the Philippines. At the time, my appendix had ruptured before removal, and I had required open surgery, followed by 18-20 stitches. Apparently, the procedure had led to intestinal adhesions, which were now obstructing my bowel,” he said.
Surgery to remove the adhesions was suggested, and Afuang, who was in a lot of pain, agreed readily. The procedure was carried out the same day, and the care team told him he would be able to go home after he had a bowel movement.
This never happened, and 10 days later, wracked by nausea, Afuang found himself unconvinced about the treatment he was receiving. He sought to be discharged from the hospital, and on February 28, was admitted to another hospital in Dubai.
“I was asked to do an oral CT scan at this second hospital, which showed further adhesions in my intestine. In addition, doctors found parts of my gut had become hard like cement. Another major surgery was therefore performed in consultation with other specialists, and my treating doctor then suggested I seek treatment at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD), which specialises in the care of complicated cases like mine,” Afuang said.
Transfer to Abu Dhabi
Afuang was transferred to the Abu Dhabi-based hospital on March 3, and he was stabilised in the ICU.
After being moved to a ward, the care team noticed a leak of abdominal fluids.
“One of the intestinal drain tubes had leaked waste discharge into my abdomen, so this had to be washed out. They also placed a fistula so that food could bypass my intestines as they healed,” Afuang explained.
Eventually, a stoma bag was also attached to collect waste outside his intestines.
A report issued in July by the hospital says the “surgical plan is to rest the bowel and attempt intestinal reconstruction, [but] not before six months”.
“Doctors have told me that the reconstruction cannot be done before six months of healing. But my other problems are continuing to grow,” Afuang said.
When Afuang was admitted to hospital, he did not expect to face any trouble with his job.
“A colleague of mine had been diagnosed with cancer and the company had provided support all the way. But I suppose times may be tougher now?” Afuang said.
His initial treatments had been covered by insurance, and even when he had was first transferred to CCAD, his employer had upgraded his insurance to cover treatment costs.
“But by June 30, the costs had probably climbed, and the company said they would let me go so I could seek treatment back home in the Philippines. But with my condition, I was barely mobile, let alone the lack of treatment and care back home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” Afuang said.
So although he was let go, the expat cannot go back home yet. He is also facing pressure to cancel his visa, even as he remains in constant discomfort, and uncertain when the intestinal reconstruction will be carried out. In addition, his gratuity pay has been withheld by the bank due to an unpaid loan.
“I don’t have income to pay off the loan, which exceeds the amount of the gratuity pay. Meanwhile, my wife, who works as a document controller, has been on unpaid leave since May,” Afuang said.
The couple is unable to enroll their five-year-old son in school without funds, and if Afuang’s visa is cancelled, their son will also lose his sponsorship.
In desperate need
“We begged his employer not to cancel my brother’s visa so the hospital could continue his treatment but in vain. We are really in desperate need of assistance, and don’t know what to do and to whom to ask for help,” said Ludilyn, Afuang’s older sister.
Afuang, as sick and in pain as he is, is worried about hospital bills, the visa cancellation and what will happen to his wife and son.
“I haven’t been able to see them in person since May, and I shudder to think how I will pay off my bills. I am receiving great care here at the CCAD though, and I really hope that the end of my journey will be positive,” he said with hope.