DUBAI // Eight-year-old Ali Altaf has already endured more than most will in a lifetime.
After beating cancer once, the disease has returned and the schoolboy is facing a race against time to get a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
But his family needs help to pay for the expensive treatment abroad and is appealing for donations to help save his life.
“Ali is very, very intelligent and full of wisdom,” said his father, Mohammed Altaf, 39. “He does not deserve all this.”
Ali started complaining that he constantly felt weak and tired in September 2010, and began suffering from fevers and regular nosebleeds.
Mr Altaf thought his son had an infection and was devastated when specialists at a Dubai hospital told him Ali had leukaemia, a cancer of the blood.
For the next two and a half years, Ali was in and out of hospital and needed several gruelling courses of chemotherapy. In May this year, he was finally declared cancer-free.
But tragically, his family’s happiness was short-lived. Just three months later, in August, Ali’s health problems returned.
He felt sluggish, was always hungry and began piling on weight. He also had difficulty walking even short distances.
“It was like he had to balance himself every time he took a step,” said Mr Altaf, a father of two. “When he was stood still he was constantly shivering.”
He took his son back to hospital and doctors confirmed the worst.
An MRI showed the cancer had returned but this time the disease had attacked Ali’s brain, nervous system and bone marrow.
“Doctors said Ali had a relapse and this time it would be tougher to beat,” Mr Altaf said. “We were told that 29 per cent of Ali’s bone marrow had cancer cells. They said his bone marrow was floppy and full of cancer.
“I did not have any idea that the cancer would come back and even worse than before. I thought he was cured forever.”
In the days following his diagnosis, Ali suffered several seizures and spent 12 days hooked to a ventilator in the intensive-care unit of Dubai Hospital in Al Baraha.
Mr Altaf was told his son needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.
The treatment is not available in the UAE so he was advised to take his son to Europe.
But with a cost of nearly Dh700,000, Mr Altaf, an Indian businessman, cannot afford the life-saving operation. He is still paying Dh200,000 of medical bills that have mounted up so far.
He set up an IT company in Dubai in 2005 but it folded in 2010 as a result of the global economic crisis.
Since then, he has been doing the occasional consulting job but, without a permanent income, Mr Altaf said he and his wife Sana, 30, cannot afford their son’s treatment.
As it is, he struggles to keep himself, his wife, Ali and their elder son Omar, 12, alive.
Mr Altaf is appealing for generous members of the public to help pay for his son’s operation.
Until he receives a transplant, Ali will continue to undergo chemotherapy to try to halt the cancer’s progress.
When a bone marrow donor is identified and the money for the operation is raised, the long-term prognosis will be positive and there is a 50 per cent chance Ali could recover fully.
“He will suffer greatly without this treatment,” said Mr Altaf, who lives in the Muhaisnah area of Dubai. “He has been in a lot of pain but he is a very brave child.
“He even tells me there are children suffering worse than him. He is far braver than me.”
Anyone willing to donate towards Ali’s treatment should contact Mr Altaf on 055 770 5979 or email email@example.com.