Leah’s ready for her big trip
The family of three-year-old Leah Xuereb, who will be receiving last-ditch treatment in the US for a rare form of stomach cancer, are all packed and ready to fly out.
“We are more than ready to go. With our visas in hand, we are just waiting for the go-ahead from the doctors,” her mother Zhana Xuereb, 33, from Għajnsielem said last night.
“We’re always ready to go. We’ve spent a lot of the past 14 months at the hospita, so we live out of our suitcases,” she added.
The €245,000 treatment at the Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas, which is the only hospital in the world that can provide it, will be sponsored by the Government.
Until yesterday, the treatment plan was still being finalised by the centre and the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where Leah has been treated.
Despite the high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant she received in London, her disease is progressing very fast.
The Texas hospital is deemed as her only hope but she must receive the treatment urgently, before she gets even worse.
Last week, Leah’s parents applied for sponsorship from the Government and on Monday they started an online fund-raising campaign, through UK charity Kidsncancer, to raise the €245,000 within a week.
Following a report in The Times on Tuesday, the initial €11,000 soon became €70,000, with about 25 donations per minute.
That evening, the Health Ministry said their application had been accepted.
“Our hope has now become real,” Ms Xuereb said. “When we saw the numbers going up on Tuesday, we said: we are going to make it. It’s going to happen for real.
“Everybody was so kind, it’s unbelievable.
“I felt so much stronger when I saw the support... and when we got to know it was actually going to happen, we started jumping and shouting. The trembling, shaking and crying hasn’t stopped since.”
Her husband Jonathan agreed: “It happened so fast, and we still haven’t gotten over how kind people are.”
Mr Xuereb, who runs a restaurant in Gozo, has travelled to the UK to withhis daughter 11 times in the past 14 months: “Sometimes I’d be at the restaurant and my wife calls, in tears. I’d just call some flight operator and head over. Tickets have cost me as much as €650. When news spread that Leah got sick, some 15 months ago, people we’ve never met started knocking on our door to help.
“Through their help, Puttinu Cares, Community Chest Fund, the Government, and a personal loan, we managed to pull through.
“Then the bombshell dropped about this expensive treatment. I still get goose bumps when I remember the rolling figures.”
The money raised by Kidsncancer will now be used for flights and accommodation for the family and the rest will be distributed to children facing the same challenges.
“Once Leah is OK, I’m going to dedicate myself to others going through the same ordeal,” Ms Xuereb said.
Leah was healthy until she turned two. At Great Ormond, she received 11 courses of chemotherapy. “Through it all she never complained while I kept saying to myself, ‘I don’t want to remember her like this’. I can breathe better now, knowing she can have the only thing she really needs.
“But we believe that she’ll pull through this and everything will be ok. Hope to God it all goes well and it’s is the last treatment she’ll ever need,” Ms Xuereb said, sighing.