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Durban - Through generous donations, medical science and a miraculous turn of events, Rose-Leigh Usher will celebrate her 10th birthday with family and friends on Thursday.
The young Wentworth resident captured public attention when it was revealed earlier this year that she needed an urgent operation, costing R500 000, or she wouldn’t live to see the end of the year.
In June last year Rose-Leigh was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer, hepatosplenic gamma-delta T-cell lymphoma, for which she would need seven cycles of intensive chemotherapy and a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
But there was no matching donor on the South African Bone Marrow Registry, and the search net was widened until an umbilical cord stem cell unit was found in the US.
Daily News readers heeded the call of Rose-Leigh’s family and more than R600 000 was raised to assist the little girl.
In April, Rose-Leigh and her mother, Rosemary Ullbricht, went to Groote Schuur Hospital where the young patient was left in the care of Professor Nicolas Novitzky, head of haemotology at the University of Cape Town.
“We arrived at the hospital two weeks before the operation which was on April 25,” recalled Ullbricht. “She was in isolation throughout.”
The transfusion took 20 minutes to half an hour but Rose-Leigh’s condition had to be closely monitored for any sign of negative reaction to the transfusion. As her immune system had to be destroyed to ensure the engraftment of the cells, she couldn’t be exposed to any form of contamination.
As Ullbricht had to return to work, her older daughter, Britney, and sister, Irene Williams, stayed with Rose-Leigh during her six weeks in hospital and then two months at the Childhood Cancer Foundation’s CHOC house, a temporary home for care givers and children during treatment periods.
“After her operation she was at her sickest. Professor Novitzky is… so dedicated to his patients and answered any question we had,” said Ullbricht.
Rose-Leigh was discharged from hospital at the beginning of June and returned home on July 31, three months early.
“I was sitting at home when Rose-Leigh and her aunt arrived and surprised me. It was overwhelming,” said Ullbricht. “She’s a miracle child.”
She said the family thanked God and those who donated towards the life-saving operation.
Although she’s on the mend, Rose-Leigh has to go for monthly check-ups at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital. She’s also building up her weight and, because of the number of antibiotics she’s had to consume, has a hearing problem which requires hearing aids, although the severity could be temporary.
Rose-Leigh has had to miss almost a year-and-a-half of school, but Ullbricht hopes she can resume classes at Durban East Primary School next year.
Asked how she was feeling last week, an energetic Rose-Leigh
said: “Before I was weak and couldn’t get out of bed. But now I can.”
Rose-Leigh said she looked forward to celebrating her Barbie-themed birthday party with family and friends. She then ran off to play with the neighbourhood children, looking happy and vibrant.