"Waking up every morning with bone pain was debilitating," recalls 16-year-old Sidra Bhutto. "It all started with agonising bone pain and fever. Initially, my parents thought it was just a viral fever and took me to a local hospital. But they grew more and more concerned when the problem lingered and the doctors were unable to find the reason."
In early 2014, Sidra Bhutto, a high-spirited girl from Larkana, was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. For a young girl with big dreams and an ambition to become a doctor, this news came as a complete shock. "It was not easy for me or my family to accept that I had been diagnosed with blood cancer," she recounts. "But then, my parents decided that they would go to any length to give me another chance to live."
The family decided to go to Karachi for treatment. Upon arriving in the city, Sidra's parents knew that taking their daughter to The Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) was their safest bet. After initial screening and diagnosis, they consulted Dr. Zehra Fadoo, Professor of Oncology, AKUH, to discuss the treatment options. Dr. Zehra and her team were optimistic about Sidra's recovery and gave her family the hope and support they needed. Together, they developed a comprehensive treatment plan to provide Sidra with complete medical assistance, including preliminary and follow-up care.
After consulting with the medical team at AKUH, Sidra's parents felt positive that she could be cured. But there was a problem: they knew they could not afford the treatment.
Upon realising that the family was struggling financially, the Oncology team referred them to the Patient Welfare office. The Welfare Programme at the AKUH provides financial assistance to those who do not have resources to pay their medical bills. The programme aims to ensure that everyone gets equal access to quality healthcare, regardless of their paying capacity, their race, ethnicity, age or occupation. Like more than half a million other patients that the AKUH welfare programme supports every year, Sidra's case was also managed quickly, clearing the path for her to benefit from the best possible care, without letting financial constraints get in the way.
Sidra underwent rigorous chemotherapy during which she lost her hair, got mouth ulcers, reported fever, nausea and vomiting; yet she remained undefeated. Her faith in God and her positive attitude kept her going. Her family stood by her side and gave her strength which enabled her to continue her treatment for three years.
Despite being on financial support from the AKUH welfare programme, Sidra received the same level of care and attention as all other patients. Speaking about her experience at AKUH she said, "The doctors at the AKUH are so dedicated. They took very good care of me and supported me every step of the way throughout the treatment process."
Sidra has been off treatment for over a year and has now returned to her normal life. Today, she goes to college with aspirations to become a doctor to help children with cancer, to give them the strength and courage to fight cancer, just like she did.