Dubai pupil raises Dh11,000 and donates hair after brave cancer battle

Aurelia Reeves, 11, survived a rare form of the illness after receiving a stem cell transplant at five months old

Powered by automated translation

An 11-year-old cancer survivor has raised more than Dh11,000 ($2,995) and donated her hair to children battling the disease on the anniversary of her stem cell treatment.

British-German Aurelia Reeves, a year six pupil at Swiss International School Dubai, last month donated 33cm of her hair to The Little Princess Trust, a UK-based charity that provides real hair wigs, free of charge, to children and young people who have lost their locks to cancer.

The pupil, along with her friends, family and local community, have also raised Dh11,500 for the Al Jalila Foundation, a UAE charity dedicated to ensuring those unable to afford health care are able to access medical treatment.

I'm an HLH survivor and that makes it really important for me to give back because unfortunately many people do not survive
Aurelia Reeves, 11, pupil at Swiss International School Dubai

Aurelia was diagnosed with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare and life-threatening form of cancer that causes white blood cells to attack the body's organs, aged only four months.

It is mostly inherited by genes and affects babies from birth to 18 months.

A stem cell transplant is the only way to cure familial HLH. If left untreated, it can be fatal within weeks or months.

A month later, she received a stem cell transplant when she was five months old. The treatment involved receiving 50 litres of blood via a stem cell donor.

"I'm an HLH survivor and that makes it really important for me to give back because unfortunately many people do not survive HLH," she said.

Aurelia said she had mixed feelings about donating her hair since she would "look a little different", but was relieved her donation will go on to make "many children happy".

"I also just wanted to spread some good news around the world, since there is a lot going on right now," she said.

Aurelia, who first cut her hair in 2022 aged nine, said she has been growing her hair ever since to donate it to the charity.

"You get used to it. I look very beautiful with it [long hair]," she told The National, adding that wigs can help other cancer patients regain their confidence.

"I don't want anything to hold them back," she said. "Having a wig will help them find their passion again."

Aurelia has also been an inspiration to her peers, with three of her friends deciding to grow and donate their hair for charity, too.

Passion for charitable causes

The pupil has spent years coming up with creative ways to raise money for various charities abroad and in the UAE supporting those battling cancer.

She has adopted two whales (blue and humpback), a whale shark, a turtle, and a lamb through the World Wildlife Fund.

In 2022, she raised €1,200 (Dh4,780) for the hospital in Freiburg, Germany, where she received her transplant, after selling 140 cards at a market made from dried flowers taken from her grandmother's garden.

The money, she said, was to support the hospital in building a new children's ward.

"The hospital has a team of doctors that saved my life," she said.

A year later, Aurelia sold a further 160 cards, raising €1,052 for a wildlife sanctuary in Germany after a storm.

The pupil, along with her friends, have also used her school's business fair to donate part of their proceeds towards the Emirates Red Crescent to support Palestinians in Gaza.

"We had a school project in fifth grade, where we had to create a little business to sell products," she said. "We made a bookmark and donated our profits to the Emirates Red Crescent so we could make a difference."

Shona Galstadi, head of primary at Swiss International School Dubai, said Aurelia's story was an inspiration to the entire school.

"She is a credit to our school and her passion for charitable causes – including animal welfare and environmental issues – is infectious."

The pupil said aims to set up a stem cell database in the UAE, which "will save a lot of lives", she said.

"We're very proud of her," Aurelia's mother, Isabel Reeves, told The National. "I think what gives us the greatest joy is that she has taken her journey and turned it into something positive.

"This is really the family dream to see a stem cell database here because there's such a rich pool of donors that could be recruited here, which would be wonderful.

"The databases that exist currently are quite singular in terms of the ethnicities that they represent," she added. "We are very fortunate that there were three possible donors in the system instantly for Aurelia."

After her daughter was diagnosed, she said the family focused on being grateful.

"This is what we wanted to instil in her very early on, that sometimes things are tricky and she may have had a harder start than many other children," the mother said.

"But we have to be incredibly fortunate for everything."

Updated: March 05, 2024, 3:41 PM