At the large hospital in Mumbai, the news was grim. Thirteen-month-old Bella, the first girl child in the family for 20 years, had pulled through an eight-hour surgery to remove her brain tumor. But the pathology report was back; it was both cancerous and incurable.
“We can just extend her life some days or a month,” her dad, Amit, recalled the doctors saying, “but we cannot save the patient.”
As Bella’s parents struggled to absorb that their child would die, a stranger approached them — the father of another cancer-stricken child in the same hospital. “He just came like God had sent a messenger,” remembered Bella’s dad. The stranger said, “There is a hospital called St. Jude in USA ... ”
Bella’s parents had never heard of St. Jude. They had never been to the United States. But soon, they were in touch with Dr. Amar Gajjar, Director of the Neuro-Oncology Division at St. Jude in Memphis, Tenn. Based on additional pathology from St. Jude and another hospital in India, Bella’s diagnosis was changed to anaplastic ependymoma — a survivable disease, if treated properly.
Amit described the situation as it stood then: “My child is just 14 months old, and in Mumbai itself, in India itself, there is no proton therapy yet. Radiation is available, but for children 24 months and above, not before that.”
Bella was 10 months away from being eligible; and anaplastic ependymoma is a fast-growing tumor.
A month after being told Bella would die, she and her family arrived at St. Jude, where she received proton therapy and chemotherapy. Her parents were prepared to manage under any circumstances, live in any condition.
Instead, they found out that St. Jude would provide much more than Bella’s treatment. “St. Jude has thought about the issues we face,” said Amit. “Accommodation, transportation — everything is arranged. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
Bella completed treatment in September 2018.
“St. Jude is an organization which is beyond expectation,” said Amit. “I tell my family, I tell my friends about St. Jude and what is happening with us here, and they say, ‘No, it is not possible.’ Nobody is ready to believe us. Unless someone comes here and experiences it, no one will believe that there could be such an organization in the world — in these kind of times, when everyone is living for themselves. It is God’s organization.”
Bella may be the only girl in the family, but she’s a tomboy at heart. She disdains dolls, loves playing with cars and balls, and is her proud father’s pet. She also loves dancing. “Even if your mobile phone rings, she will start to dance,” said Amit.
She is absolutely brilliant.
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