DUBAI // Some have been given the chance to walk again, while others are hearing the world around them for the first time. Hundreds have also been offered the chance of life-changing medical treatment that would have otherwise been out of reach were it not for the Al Jalila Foundation.
The foundation is only four years old but already it is transforming lives, such as that of Asmahan, a 26-year-old Syrian who lost her arm in a childhood accident.
At first she coped well but during adolescence it began to bother her more and she began researching the prospect of a natural limb transplant.
Doctors dashed that ambition because of the cost and the unlikely chance of success, so she began looking into a functioning prosthetic limb instead.
“All the doctors told me that a limb transplant would be impossible,” she said. “They said the only possible solution was a prosthetic fitting. I was adamant in my refusal, especially because this option would be only cosmetic and not functional at all.
“I continued to deal with this constant questioning about my situation. Once my studies were completed, the questions did not stop, and I became really overwhelmed and depressed.
“Seeing me in such a state, my family insisted I consult a doctor in the hope that with technological advances in medicine, there might be a new solution that I wasn’t aware of.”
Asmahan visited a specialist prosthesis centre, where doctors offered a functional false arm with a hand that could open and close. It sounded perfect, but came at a cost of Dh115,000, way beyond her family’s budget.
A doctor put her in touch with the foundation, which suggested she applied for a grant. She did and was successful. Months later she was fitted with a life-changing new prosthesis.
“My life has been completely transformed,” she said.
“For the first time I don’t have to worry about people looking at me as though I’m from a different planet.
“I can do many things that I wasn’t able to do before, and I’ve become so much more positive and ambitious.”
The foundation’s fundraising programmes have drawn support from people from all walks of life from across the country and beyond. Its community fundraising events range from cake sales at schools to marathons and mountain climbing.
Three-year-old Rama Al Khobi was born deaf but her Syrian parents did not pick up on the problem until she was a year old, when a doctor performed a health check.
Her father Kasem, a chef in Dubai, felt there was little he could do to help his daughter during her important early development years when he discovered the cost of a cochlear implant to restore her hearing would cost Dh150,000. A huge amount for someone who earns Dh7,000 a month.
But he was also offered help by the foundation.
“The doctor said she was not speaking as much as she should, and that she was not reacting to sounds,” he said.
“She had a hearing aid for a year but it did not really help her. The doctors said the cochlear implant was an option but it was very expensive.”
Rama had an operation to insert the implant and, in tandem with speech therapy, it has made a huge difference.
“She can hear everything now and is speaking to us,” Kasem said. “She has changed a lot and plays with her younger brother. If we call from another room, she hears us. That reaction was never there before.”
Others to have been helped through the A’awen programme offering financial aid to UAE-based patients are Khaled, 32, an Egyptian who lost his foot when he was hit by a car that ran into him on the pavement.
He struggled to use public transport, so his friend suggested he apply for help with a prosthetic foot, which the foundation has since funded.
Amna, 24, was given a diagnosis of severe rheumatism at an early age but had her free treatment withdrawn when it was stopped for non-locals.
Her situation deteriorated rapidly and she was forced to give up work. Her father asked for help on social media, and the foundation offered to pay for her ongoing treatment.
Now she is able to continue her volunteer work, art and photography.
Testament to its ethos of transforming lives, Al Jalila Foundation has invested millions in high-impact healthcare programmes in the areas of medical treatment, education and research in the UAE and globally.
It has also provided 55 research grants and six fellowships to advance research into the biggest health challenges in the region, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and mental health. “Our success depends on the support we receive from our donors, strategic partners and the wider community,” said Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, the foundation’s chief executive.
“Now, more than ever, the possibilities to achieve our shared goals are limitless.”
For more information, visit www.aljalilafoundation.ae.