Life-saving cancer treatment for a three-year-old Gozitan girl, which costs €245,000 in the only place in the world that can provide it, is to be sponsored by the Government.
The parents of Leah Xuereb, who is suffering from a very rare form of stomach cancer, were informed of the decision by the Health Ministry yesterday evening after having applied to the Government for sponsorship last week.
In the meantime, they were trying to raise the money themselves and had managed to collect €70,000 following an appeal in The Times yesterday.
The Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas is the only place where children with rare stomach cancers can be treated.
Leah will be flown out as soon as possible as she needs the treatment urgently before her cancer spreads further and she is too ill to take the treatment.
“It is absolutely amazing. We are crying and laughing with joy and hugging and kissing Leah,” her mother Zhana Xuereb, 33, from Għajnielem said last night.
In the background Leah was squealing with laughter, oblivious to what was going on around her and saying: “Mummy, Mummy, look, there are squirrels on TV!”
The parents are all set to fly out to the US and just waiting for the go-ahead from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London where Leah has been getting treatment.
“Great Ormond needs to liaise with Dr Andrea Hayes-Jordan in Houston. We’ll probably be going early next week,” Ms Xuereb said.
The Xuerebs said they did not have enough words to thank everyone, and were almost apologetic for having to turn to people for help: “We wanted to fund this ourselves, we didn’t want to ask other people – but this was impossible for us,” said Ms Xuereb.
With Leah’s life hanging in balance and unsure if the Government would sponsor the treatment, her parents kick-started a fund-raising campaign with an “impossible” target: €245,000 within a week.
Until Monday they had managed to raise €11,000 but following the report in The Times donations flowed in and in less than a day the amount collected shot up to more than €70,000.
Donations were being sent to a UK charity called Kidsncancer at www.justgiving.com/helpsaveleah.
Explaining why it took a week to process the sponsorship application, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said it had to go through a “rigorous process” in which experts researched and examined the case.
As the Government will now be covering the hefty treatment bill, money raised through Kidsncancer will be used for flights and accommodation for Leah and her family.
The rest will be kept by the charity until Leah is in remission.
“Any remaining money from this campaign will be distributed to children facing the same challenges. The charity will manage all funds,” said family friend Jo Kesbey, who is helping the Xuerebs with logistics.
“We are simply overwhelmed by the support people have given to us. People tweeted, people shared, people from every walk of life got involved. We want to thank every single person who got involved and made this happen,” she said.
The family also thanked the Puttinu Cares foundation and the Community Chest Fund for all their help through these past 14 months.
Questions have been raised about why the treatment could not be carried out in Europe. But Olga Slater, consultant paediatric oncologist at Great Ormond said that despite the high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, Leah’s disease had returned and was progressing very fast.
“We do not think that chemotherapy treatment of any sort will cure her disease, as each time we stopped chemotherapy for any period of time her disease immediately returned,” she said.
The Texas hospital was deemed as the last and only hope. “Our hope has now become real,” said Leah’s mother in tears last night.