Her life de­pends on the gen­eros­ity of blood donors

Ten-year-old Am­marah Gor­don has to have con­stant trans­fu­sions just to stay alive, writes Viwe Ndon­geni

The Star Early Edition - - LIFESTYLE -

FOR MANY 10-year-olds play­ing out­doors, go­ing to school and par­tak­ing in sports forms part of their nor­mal ev­ery­day rou­tine, but for Capeto­nian Am­marah Gor­don life is not that sim­ple…

When her friends play ca­su­ally, Am­marah can’t al­ways join them as she might pick up germs and risk fall­ing ill if she’s not care­ful enough.

Am­marah was di­ag­nosed with acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia al­most a year ago, fol­low­ing a spell of nose bleeds. At first, her mother Nu­raan thought her health woes were caused by si­nus prob­lems and ev­ery­thing would soon pass, but in­stead of get­ting bet­ter, the bleed­ing wors­ened each day.

“She was bleed­ing so heav­ily that we had to stand in the sink be­cause the blood was com­ing out of her nose like it’s com­ing from a tap,” said Gor­don.

It was only in Au­gust last year when she was di­ag­nosed with leukaemia that her fam­ily re­alised that their lit­tle girl was se­ri­ously sick.

Dr Alan David Son, who treats Am­marah at the Red Cross War Me­mo­rial Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in Cape Town, where the lit­tle girl re­ceives reg­u­lar blood trans­fu­sions, says acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia makes up about 1/3 of child­hood can­cers in South Africa. For ev­ery mil­lion chil­dren un­der the age of 15 years, 100 to 150 will de­velop can­cer each year.

Gor­don says their lives as a fam­ily had since changed from that of an “out­go­ing fam­ily”, which of­ten went on fam­ily va­ca­tions, to stay­ing at home full time.

“We are so scared that if we go out she might pick up germs. To avoid the risk we skip all out­door ac­tiv­i­ties and stay home,” said Gor­don.

As a fam­ily they had to make huge fi­nan­cial and ca­reer ad­just­ments for their daugh­ter’s sake. “I had to leave my job to be a full-time stay at home mother.

“I miss adult con­ver­sa­tions and hav­ing a job, but be­tween my hus­band and I we had to make a de­ci­sion that one of us should stay at home as Am­marah could not go to school any­more.”

Ear­lier this year, Am­marah started los­ing her hair be­cause of the can­cer treat­ment. Her par­ents were scared to cut it, ini­tially. Brave Am­marah asked her par­ents to shave her hair, be­cause she hated the bald patches.

In sup­port of her cut­ting her hair, the fam­ily made a de­ci­sion to all cut their hair. Her fa­ther and brother shaved their hair off, while her mother made a de­ci­sion to cut her hair shorter.

“She was so strong; I gave her a hat to go to the mall, be­cause peo­ple stared at her, but she would con­stantly ask us to take it off be­cause she did not mind peo­ple look­ing at her,” said Gor­don.

She also adds that she has seen her daugh­ter grow overnight from a nor­mal 10-year-old to a re­spon­si­ble, ma­ture girl. She even knows what nurses should do when they treat her. If they forget one of the pro­ce­dures she re­minds them.

Am­marah’s con­di­tion is re­ceiv­ing at­ten­tion this month as June is known as World Blood Donor Month and is ded­i­cated to blood donors, whose blood do­na­tion saves lives ev­ery­day, in­clud­ing those with blood dis­or­ders such as Am­marah.

World Blood Donor Day is com­mem­o­rated an­nu­ally on June 14 in a global cel­e­bra­tion of the mil­lions of peo­ple through­out the world who give their blood on a vol­un­tary, un­paid ba­sis to save the lives of those in need.

Do­nat­ing a unit of blood can save up to three lives of pa­tients in dire need of blood. By be­com­ing a reg­u­lar blood donor, this en­sures that the safety of blood is main­tained and makes it pos­si­ble for blood banks such as the South African Na­tional Blood Ser­vice (SANBS) and the Western Prov­ince Blood Trans­fu­sion Ser­vice (WPBTS) to col­lect suf­fi­cient safe blood to meet the de­mand.

Young Am­marah has re­ceived about five bags of blood to help her sur­vive since her di­ag­no­sis 10 months ago. She has to spend about eight hours per trans­fu­sion at the Red Cross War Me­mo­rial Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, where she re­ceives her blood.

Un­til she gets a bone mar­row match – which she has been strug­gling to get, her life is de­pen­dent on reg­u­lar blood trans­fu­sions.

“We had two donor drives, but till now there has been noth­ing. We are strug­gling to find a match, be­cause of our eth­nic group. There are not so many donors from our coloured com­mu­nity, mak­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for us to find the per­fect match,” said Gor­don.

Ac­cord­ing to WPBTS, of the 5 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in the Western Cape, sadly less than 1.2% of the pop­u­la­tion do­nates blood. Na­tion­ally, less than 1% of South Africans are blood donors. This is de­spite the fact that at least 75% of the pop­u­la­tion might need a blood trans­fu­sion dur­ing their life­time.

SANBS says that the ma­jor­ity of the blood col­lected by the blood bank is is­sued to women dur­ing childbirth, and to can­cer pa­tients.

SANBS needs to col­lect more than 800 000 blood do­na­tions ev­ery year. This means that they need to col­lect more than 3 000 blood do­na­tions daily to meet the de­mand for blood in South Africa.

For peo­ple like Am­marah with the his­tory of can­cer, it be­comes very im­por­tant to get blood reg­u­larly just to stay alive.

CARED FOR: Am­marah Gor­don, 10, was di­ag­nosed with acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia al­most a year ago.

Am­marah Gor­don re­ceiv­ing a blood trans­fu­sion.

PIC­TURES: TRACEY ADAMS

Am­marah’s mother, Nu­raan Gor­don.

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