Thirteen-year-old Aisha smiles shyly while sitting between her parents. Her father narrates how in 2015, Aisha, then a fifth grader, started having a pain in her foot and began limping. She started having frightening episodes where she would bleed from her nose, mouth and eyes.
Aisha’s mother said, “Aisha used to be so good at school and in her studies, but she became tired and lethargic. We took her everywhere – to neighborhood clinics, to nearby hospitals – and received no hope. We were told she has a white blood cell problem. For eight months Aisha was in and out of hospitals, having blood transfusions, getting many tests done and having various medicines given, but it made no difference.”
“The hospitals we went to treated us so callously. Some wouldn’t even help us or admit her and would say things like ‘She won’t last even four days’”, continued Aisha’s mother. Eventually, the family was told that Aisha would need chemotherapy and that she should be taken to Aga Khan University Hospital to start treatment right away.
The family met Dr. Sadaf Altaf, a paediatric hematologist-oncologist, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Oncology at Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH). Dr. Altaf said Aisha would need chemotherapy and was glad they came to AKUH when they did because Aisha was very, very sick. The doctor said Aisha would need to be admitted immediately and treatment had to begin at once.
“We wasted so much time going to other hospitals and other doctors. We should have come straight to AKUH,” Aisha’s mother mentioned. “Only here did they give us hope and treat Aisha properly. The doctors and other medical staff worked so hard to save her and were so compassionate. Aisha was close to death and they brought her back to us,” she continued.
Dr. Altaf told the family that Aisha needed a bone marrow transplant. So Aisha’s elder brother was tested to see if his bone marrow was a match for his sister, and luckily it was.
“The bone marrow transplant costs Rs. 3.5 million for the month-long process which we couldn’t afford,” said Aisha’s father. “The Patient Welfare Department and the Patients’ Behbud Society for AKUH helped me with the financial burden of this expensive treatment. Thanks to their generosity, we were able to get Aisha admitted for the bone marrow transplant.”
“I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see Aisha’s health finally improve. I feel like AKUH is full of angels and I constantly pray for the success of the doctors and nurses and other staff there. Everyone from the guard at the gate to the person at the information counter to the doctors and nurses were so polite and kind to us. Also no one treated us any differently just because we were getting financial assistance,” said Aisha’s mother.
With tears in her eyes, Aisha’s mother continued, “Everyone is so compassionate at AKUH. The doctors and nurses would treat Aisha like she was their own daughter. They would tell her stories and make her laugh and cheer her up. Doctors would sit with her on the floor and draw and paint with her. When Aisha lost all her hair, even her eyebrows and eyelashes, she was so upset. The staff would comfort her and tell her she looks beautiful and reassured her it will all grow back.”
It is hard to imagine the suffering Aisha endured over the last five years. Aisha beamed and said, “I’m much better now. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I was so sick for so long. I left school when I was in Class 5, but I’m really looking forward to going back and starting again. I missed school and my studies and friends so much.”