Surviving on purchased kidney, borrowed time

DUBAI — Thirty-seven-year-old Abdul Rauf, a Nigerian national, has just been back from the brink of death after a kidney transplant carried out on August 10 in the Philippines.


Asma Ali Zain

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Published: Sat 27 Oct 2007, 8:36 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:55 AM

Abdul Rauf and AminaHis case is an eyeopener to the flip side of transplant tourism that is booming in other countries when many do not know they can undergo the procedure in the UAE itself.

Rauf’s doctors in Welcare Hospital and friends say he is a walking miracle after he barely survived the transplant. However, he didn’t walk away unscarred. He contracted TB while in the Philippines.

“The doctors say I might have contracted TB during the transplant due to suppressed immunity. They are trying to trace a link with the procedure and my disease,” he said.

He received the kidney from an unknown donor.

His frail wife, Amina, has never left his side since the day he was diagnosed with a failed kidney two years ago in Nigeria. “Our life has never been the same since he fell sick. He had to undergo the painful dialysis for two years. When he could not take in anymore, a friend from the UAE advised us to visit Dubai to search for better medical options,” said Amina, explaining how they arrived in the country.

“Our friend referred us to Welcare Hospital where we met Dr Mustafa Ahmed Al Kazim, Transplant Nephrologist, Head of Renal Services, who guided us,” Rauf said.

Rauf’s relatives were not willing to donate. Even his wife’s blood group and tissue type did not match. In desperation, he searched the Internet for a solution.

“I was tired of the painful dialysis procedure which was also expensive. I had no option but to search for an unrelated donor,” he said.

Rauf finally found a donor and the doctors willing to do the procedure in the Philippines as it was the cheapest. “It took us five months to get organised, arranging the finances,” he said.

He spent $40,000 for the procedure that was carried out on August 10, but never got to meet his donor even once during his three-week stay for recuperation.

“I asked the doctors in the Philippines several times, but they told me that the donor would ask for money so it was better not to meet him,” he said.

But his woes did not end there. Back in Dubai two weeks later, he had severe stomach aches. “The stomachache was followed by a striking pain under the lungs. After investigation, I was told that I had contracted TB,” says Rauf, adding in between he was admitted in the ICU of Al Tawam Hospital. He had stayed on a life support machine for seven days. Rauf had to undergo dialysis again as suggested by Dr Samar Abu Chakra of Al Tawam Hospital. His urine had turned black while his CRP (C-Reactive Protein). which is a useful marker of immune activation after a transplant, remained high.

At present, Rauf is paying another $30,000 for a dose of injections (four of them) to help him recover fully. His treatment will continue for another six months. In total, he has paid Dh48,000 for initial treatment in Welcare Hospital, $40,000 for the transplant and Dh47,000 in Al Tawam Hospital. He still remains ill.

Mariam Obaidullah’s body has rejected the new kidney. The 49-year-old Pakistani national who also underwent a similar process in the Philippines three months ago had suffered from several complications before the transplant.

“I had been on dialysis for one-and-a-half years. You really have to undergo the process to really understand how painful it is. My life was hell,” she says.

Like Rauf, Mariam was also treated by Dr Mustafa who finally told her that she needed a transplant. “I checked with my relatives, but none was ready. Finally I had to opt for an unrelated donor,” she said. She finally found one in Manila, the Philippines for a $50,000 package and more if there were complications.

“Just before everything was settled with a hospital in Manila, I was informed by doctors there that the rules had changed in the country and that there would be no such procedures for foreign nationals anymore. I was shocked and shattered. However, my husband somehow managed to finalise a deal and the doctors asked us to visit Manila immediately,” she said.

Mariam’s donor was a rickshaw driver who needed money for his children. “All I know is that he donated his kidney for his children, but I did not get to meet him as the doctors wouldn’t let me,” she added. However, before surgery, there were complications and she underwent two dialysis procedures. Mariam ended up paying $80,000 for the whole procedure.

“According to what I gathered from the doctors, the law in the Philippines allows its citizens to donate kidneys and part of what we pay goes to the donor,” she said.

However, regular check-ups have showed that Mariam’s CRP is on the higher side. She is still living with persistent body pain.

Ali Al Azhari, 53-year-old Sudanese, was the lucky one who could undergo the procedure in the UAE itself.

“I had been undergoing dialysis for the past one year as all other methods had failed. Doctors told me that I needed a transplant to survive. So I started thinking of going to the Philippines as my siblings are all diabetic and hence cannot donate,” said Azhari.

“We found a hospital. They asked for $60,000. But luck was on my side and I happened to know about Dr Mustafa in Welcare Hospital. He immediately suggested a blood and tissue matching test on my wife, who is also my cousin. It matched though doctors in Sudan had told me that they do not match,” he said.

Azhari was lucky because a team of specialists from Germany was in Abu Dhabi to carry out a heart transplant. Thus he became the first person on whom a kidney transplant was carried out in Shaikh Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi on September 26.

‘Do not encourage transplant tourism’

By a staff reporter

DUBAI — “Transplant tourism is wrong as a patient does not know who the donor is,” says Dr Mustafa Ahmed Al Kazim, Transplant Nephrologist, Head of Renal Services at Welcare Hospital, who was also part of the team that operated on Ali Al Azhari on September 26.

“Successful kidney transplants are possible in the UAE now,” he said, adding that a renal and liver transplant programme had already been started in the UAE with a success rate of 96 per cent.”

According to our study, around 40 per cent of patients on dialysis have potential live donors,” said Dr Mustafa. The myth surrounding transplant procedures being illegal in the UAE needs to be broken, he added.

“We are following the largest transplant programme in the AGCC which is based on the European standards,” explained the doctor.

“People need to know that they will be saving a lot of money by opting for transplants in the UAE instead of going abroad. Most importantly, they need to know who the donor is,” he said.

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