City boy cheats death after liver failure
Last-minute transplant saves life
HE WAS near death and 10-year-old Naeem Elmie was in need of a miracle.
A week before, Naeem lay on his deathbed at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre after he had fallen off a see-saw at his auntie’s home.
It was Saturday, October 24 and the Mitchells Plain boy complained his back hurt after he hit the ground. But by the end of the weekend he couldn’t keep down any food. By the Monday his eyes had turned yellow and a GP instructed his parents, Imraan and Tasneem, to get their jaundiced child to Cape Town’s Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
Doctors had no answers. Finally, Imraan and Tasneem were told Naeem had advanced liver failure, possibly from viral infection.
Doctors couldn’t pinpoint how or why Naeem’s liver had in days turned to useless tissue. They could only say that without a transplant he wouldn’t survive.
“Naeem and I have the same blood type, so I wanted them to take parts of my liver for the transplant. I did freak out, but I was sure I could be a donor. But that was before I realised there were all these other tests. I turned out not to be suitable. We tested Imraan and it looked like he would be suitable,” said Tasneem.
Even though the Elmies had the potentially lifesaving body part in Imraan, they had no medical aid or finances to make it to the medical centre in Joburg. The private teaching hospital in Parktown is a pioneer in harvesting portions of liver from living donors for transplants.
The Red Cross hospital team leapt into action, pushing Naeem’s case for pro bono treatment. Imraan said: “It was a Friday and I had driven to two mosques asking for prayers. Then we got the phone call saying they would treat Naeem for free; I just broke down.”
An air mercy services flight flew the family to the Charlotte Maxeke hospital that Friday evening, just over a week ago. There, additional transplant compatibility tests for father and son were scheduled before the surgeries could take place.
Morning arrived with devastating news. Naeem was vomiting blood, having seizures and his limbs became rigid. More bad news would come when Imraan’s liver was not suitable.
“I saw a doctor shaking his head and I just knew,” said Tasneem.
Imraan remembered the dozens of phone calls he made as he made plea after plea to everybody they knew, including their other child, 13-yearold Aqueelah, to be blood tested for donor matches.
Bernard Le Fleur got a call from his brother Greg – they are distant relatives on Tasneem’s side of the family.
As the brothers chatted about the tragedy, Bernard’s 26-year-old son Angelo piped up: “I’ll go for the test”.
Naeem would have his miracle.
“It was frustrating because we were running out of time. At one point we couldn’t get Angelo’s results as quickly as we would have liked,” said Imraan.
But they survived the long wait and on Sunday night, with hours to live, Naeem was wheeled into Professor Jean Botha’s operating theatre. Six hours later, Botha emerged with a thumbs up for the parents.
Botha said they didn’t have the luxury of waiting till morning to do the operation. But he knows they got lucky finding a donor for Naeem.
“We have many cases where we just don’t have match.
“Our transplant programme started two-and-a-half years ago and we’ve done 26 of these procedures with live donors to date.”
Botha said the surgery works particularly well with children. Their donated livers will grow as they grow.
Angelo’s surgery was completed in about six hours and he was discharged on Thursday.
Naeem remains at the hospital. “Staff are always asking if we’re okay. Did we eat? Do we have somewhere to stay?”
Naeem has made progress every day and is breathing without the help of a ventilator.
His ICU doctor, Dr Porai Moshesh, said it would be at least a week before Naeem returned to a general ward. When he’s more stable he’ll return to Cape Town to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
Moshesh knows just how
‘The next morning
close they came to almost losing him. “It was gut-wrenching at times because you’re literally watching a child die. So when we found Naeem a match we were all very excited.
“I know we have cultural and religious issues around organ donation, but to save a child’s life is the biggest gift you can give. You leave a legacy of joy and happiness.”
Angelo’s liver will grow back in about six weeks. Naeem will be on lifelong medication. Everything he knew as normal a fortnight ago has changed.
Imraan and Tasneem don’t care, they are just grateful for a second chance.
As for Angelo, Imraan called him his hero.
Angelo said he’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“I’d never met Naeem before. I’m just happy I was a donor match and that Naeem has a chance to live a full life – a chance to watch Arsenal lose games,” the Man United fan quipped, knowing he and Naeem are joined as football fans, and by the liver they now share.
● To donate to the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre to help fund its pro bono work, call 011 356 6308 or see www.dgmc.co.za.