FOR MANY 10-year-olds playing outdoors, going to school and partaking in sports forms part of their normal everyday routine, but for Capetonian Ammarah Gordon life is not that simple
When her friends play casually, Ammarah can’t always join them as she might pick up germs and risk falling ill if she's not careful enough.
Ammarah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia almost a year ago, following a spell of nose bleeds. At first, her mother Nuraan thought her health woes were caused by sinus problems and everything would soon pass, but instead of getting better, the bleeding worsened each day.
“She was bleeding so heavily that we had to stand in the sink because the blood was coming out of her nose like it’s coming from a tap,” said Gordon.
It was only in August last year when she was diagnosed with leukaemia that her family realised that their little girl was seriously sick.
Dr Alan David Son, who treats Ammarah at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town, where the little girl receives regular blood transfusions, says acute lymphoblastic leukaemia makes up about 1/3 of childhood cancers in South Africa. For every million children under the age of 15 years, 100 to 150 will develop cancer each year.
Gordon says their lives as a family had since changed from that of an “outgoing family”, which often went on family vacations, to staying at home full time.
“We are so scared that if we go out she might pick up germs. To avoid the risk we skip all outdoor activities and stay home," said Gordon.
As a family they had to make huge financial and career adjustments for their daughter's sake. “I had to leave my job to be a full-time stay at home mother.
"I miss adult conversations and having a job, but between my husband and I we had to make a decision that one of us should stay at home as Ammarah could not go to school anymore."
Earlier this year, Ammarah started losing her hair because of the cancer treatment. Her parents were scared to cut it, initially. Brave Ammarah asked her parents to shave her hair, because she hated the bald patches.
In support of her cutting her hair, the family made a decision to all cut their hair. Her father and brother shaved their hair off, while her mother made a decision to cut her hair shorter.
“She was so strong; I gave her a hat to go to the mall, because people stared at her, but she would constantly ask us to take it off because she did not mind people looking at her,” said Gordon.
She also adds that she has seen her daughter grow overnight from a normal 10-year-old to a responsible, mature girl. She even knows what nurses should do when they treat her. If they forget one of the procedures she reminds them.
Ammarah’s condition is receiving attention this month as June is known as World Blood Donor Month and is dedicated to blood donors, whose blood donation saves lives everyday, including those with blood disorders such as Ammarah.
World Blood Donor Day is commemorated annually on June 14 in a global celebration of the millions of people throughout the world who give their blood on a voluntary, unpaid basis to save the lives of those in need.
Donating a unit of blood can save up to three lives of patients in dire need of blood. By becoming a regular blood donor, this ensures that the safety of blood is maintained and makes it possible for blood banks such as the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) and the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service (WPBTS) to collect sufficient safe blood to meet the demand.
Young Ammarah has received about five bags of blood to help her survive since her diagnosis 10 months ago. She has to spend about eight hours per transfusion at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, where she receives her blood.
Until she gets a bone marrow match - which she has been struggling to get, her life is dependent on regular blood transfusions.
“We had two donor drives, but till now there has been nothing. We are struggling to find a match, because of our ethnic group. There are not so many donors from our coloured community, making it extremely difficult for us to find the perfect match,” said Gordon.
According to WPBTS, of the 5million people living in the Western Cape, sadly less than 1.2% of the population donates blood. Nationally, less than 1% of South Africans are blood donors. This is despite the fact that at least 75% of the population might need a blood transfusion during their lifetime.
SANBS says that the majority of the blood collected by the blood bank is issued to women during childbirth, and to cancer patients.
SANBS needs to collect more than 800000 blood donations every year. This means that they need to collect more than 3000 blood donations daily to meet the demand for blood in South Africa.
For people like Ammarah with the history of cancer, it becomes very important to get blood regularly just to stay alive.