City boy cheats death af­ter liver fail­ure

Last-minute trans­plant saves life

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - UFRIEDA HO

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

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