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Doctors confident they removed Leah’s tumour

Leah’s parents Zhana and Jonathan Xuereb, pictured here on a family holiday, were by her bedside as she recovered after surgery in the US.

Leah’s parents Zhana and Jonathan Xuereb, pictured here on a family holiday, were by her bedside as she recovered after surgery in the US.

Fairy tales, like the story of Goldilocks, are putting a smile on little Leah’s face as she lies in her US hospital bed recovering from major surgery.

The more I tell her she’s fine, the faster she will get better

“She’s looking good. She’s in pain. But she’s talking… her father and I are beside her all the time… I tell her stories.

“She likes Goldilocks a lot, and I talk to her about nice places, such as the sea and nice gardens with flowers, which we visualise together,” her mother Zhana Xuereb said.

She was speaking to The Times as she stood by the bedside of her three-year-old daughter at the Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas, where Leah had just undergone a 12-hour operation to remove a yolk-sac tumour, a very rare form of stomach cancer.

The operation started on Monday at 10.30am US time (5.30pm in Malta). Ms Xuereb said throughout the operation she and her husband were updated about their daughter’s health every two hours.

“On the 10th hour the doctor said she removed between 320 and 400 pieces of the tumour and was confident she had taken it all out. We were really happy to hear that.

“At the end the doctor came out with a smile on her face. All went well without complications. We were taken near Leah soon after. She was already awake. She was asking for Mummy and Daddy. She started crying because she could feel the pain,” her mother recalled in a soft, emotional voice.

Since then Ms Xuereb and her husband, Jonathan, have remained by their daughter’s side. They are exhausted but over the moon that all had gone well and are now taking it in turns to rest.

Leah is currently hooked up to a machine since her stomach is temporarily not functioning due to the operation.

She will have to spend the next few days in intensive care and leaving hospital depends on her rate of recovery.

“Before the operation she saw other children playing with their brothers and sisters so she asked for Owen, her 14-year-old brother who is in Gozo. Since she woke up she has been asking for him a lot,” Ms Xuereb said adding she also asked for her nanna.

Leah had been receiving cancer treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London since she was diagnosed with the tumour about 16 months ago.

Despite the high doses of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, her disease progressed very fast.

Her parents, who are Gozitan, learnt that her rare tumour could be treated at the Texas hospital and refused to give up.

They started collecting money for the surgery and applied for sponsorship from the Maltese Government.

Leah’s story touched the hearts of thousands when it was first published in The Times. The day after, the Government announced it would be sponsoring the €245,000 treatment.

Leah and her parents left the UK on November 3 for the operation.

“She doesn’t know what an operation is or what cancer is. We tell her she is sick and that she’s getting better.

“The more I tell her she’s fine, the faster she will recover,” her mother said.

Ms Xuereb thanked everyone for all their prayers and messages of support that were essential at the hardest time – before and during surgery.

“We want to say thanks and want to come back home really soon. We told Leah we’ll do nice things and play when we’re home,” her mother said.

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