UAE's first Covid-19 patient to recover after stem-cell therapy tells of medical journey

Abdullahi Rodhile spent 40 days in intensive care at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi before he began to improve

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The first UAE patient to recover from Covid-19 after stem-cell therapy has told of his gruelling journey to "full health" after being placed in a coma to stop his organs shutting down.

Abdullahi Rodhile, 50, from Somalia, contracted the virus on March 30 and, because of an existing heart condition, his health deteriorated quickly.

The virus attacked his kidneys and lungs so badly that doctors rushed him into the intensive care unit at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi and put him in an induced coma for 20 days.

"Whenever we called the hospital to ask about him, they would say 'just pray for him'," Mr Rodhile's sister Zainab, 55, told The National.

Zainab said the family braced themselves for bad news after seeing global death tolls rapidly rise.

I was brought back to life. I was dead and now I am alive

“With all this news, we lost our hope," she said. "I swear to God, I thought he was going to [die]. Even his wife prepared herself that he was not coming back.”

A week after Mr Rodhile was admitted into the hospital, doctors from the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre proposed a new therapy they believed could help to treat the effects of Covid-19.

Eager to try any treatment that could help, the family agreed and Mr Rodhile became the first Covid-19 patient in the UAE to be given stem cell therapy.

It involves isolating then activating stem cells taken from the patient's blood before they are nebulised into a fine mist so they can be inhaled into the lungs.

The therapy has since been used on 72 other coronavirus patients with severe symptoms.

Roy Cooper / The National
Roy Cooper / The National

“I was brought back to life. I was dead and now I am alive,” said Mr Rodhile, who works as a cargo clerk.

“I have never been better. Thank God."

He spent 40 days in intensive care but only after he started the stem cell therapy did his lungs begin to improve slightly.

Mr Rodhile eventually healed enough to gradually awaken from the coma.

The first thing he did after he regained consciousness was call his sister.

“He asked for his cell phone and asked them to dial my number," Zainab said. "It was 12am and I saw his name and I was in shock. I couldn’t even move."

Mr Rodhile was disoriented and confused at first but slowly began to recover his strength.

“I do believe that, after God, stem cell made his life different,” his sister said.

Mr Rodhile is father to 10 children with his youngest aged only a month. His wife and children live in Somalia.

His stem cell treatment was free, in line with an order from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, that all costs be covered for any critical coronavirus cases.

The treatment is considered "supportive". It is administered to patients alongside more conventional medical support and established treatment, rather than as a replacement.

"I am grateful and want to thank every person who has supported me and has taken care of me, and for Sheikh Mohamed and the UAE government for covering my treatment," Mr Rodhile said.