ABU DHABI // When Arcelyn Barros’s eight-year-old son began losing his hair because of chemotherapy, she, her husband and their nine-year old boy shaved their heads.
“We want to support Rafael,” they say.
He has been battling stage three liver cancer for three years.
Every two weeks, the boy from the Philippines undergoes a round of chemotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells. “It’s no use,” his mother, 43, says. “A few days, after the chemotherapy, the cancer marker goes up again.”
Since Rafael was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014, he has had four operations to remove the cancerous growth and a large portion of his liver.
“For a short while, after the first surgery in 2014, we had hope that he would be OK,” but his liver grew back with a tumour that later spread to the pelvis.
Three surgeries and three years of chemotherapy and Rafael still has cancer. The only option for his survival is a liver transplant, which is too costly for the family.
“We have looked everywhere for the cheapest hospital for the transplant and found that India was the only place.”
A liver transplant in India would cost the family Dh133,000 as opposed to up to Dh1m in the US.
Ms Barros will be the donor and donate 40 per cent of her liver to Rafael. “This isn’t even something that I gave a second thought to,” she says.
The family immediately got on a plane to India to test if either parent was a matching donor.
“Thank God, that I was a match. I would do anything for my baby boy,” Ms Barros says.
If the family are able to afford the cost of the transplant, Rafael has a high chance of survival, better than the less-than-30 per cent chance of survival at the moment.
“Doctors have refused to tell me my son’s prognosis. After the first surgery, it was 30 per cent. Now I don’t know what it is. I am staying strong for him because I’m told that if I break down, then it’s not good for him.”
Staying strong for her son, she says, is “torture” – especially as the family cannot afford the total costs of surgery that would save his life.
“We have paid for the assessment and some of the surgery, but not all.”
Rafael will have to stay three months in India and a month in the hospital. His mother will have to remain under observation, too.
“With the cost of the accommodation, hospital stay, medication, we will need an additional Dh70,000,” she says.
Ms Barros has three other children, aged 9, 5 and 2.
“At first they were jealous that we were focusing all our attention on the brother, but now the eldest one understands that he has cancer and every moment is precious,” she says.
Rafael has regular relapses and his condition can deteriorate overnight.
Hisham Al Zahrani, manager of zakat and social services at Dar Al Ber, says: “The Barros family have already paid most of the costs for the surgery, but they need an additional Dh70,000. We are asking readers to please donate money to help save Rafael’s life.
“Chemotherapy is one of the most difficult and aggressive treatments. Rafael has been undergoing chemotherapy for three years now and has massive scars across his abdomen,” Mr Al Zahrani says.
“We hope that the transplant will put an end to his suffering.”