Single mom's efforts help son cheat death twice

By Ngoc Ngan   March 13, 2024 | 09:00 am PT
Four months since her son was diagnosed with leukemia, Thu Hoa has constantly found herself on pins and needles, fearing that she might lose him.

The 27-year-old woman from the central province of Ninh Thuan left her husband at the end of 2021, bringing her two sons to live in Binh Duong Province that borders HCMC. She provided for the boys by working as an accountant at a restaurant and selling vegetables.

As Hoa had to work more than 12 hours a day, she sent her younger son Minh Hai, then only three months old, home to be taken care of by her mother. In mid-2023, the grandmother noticed that the boy had lost his appetite and often experienced bloating, thus she took him to see the doctor. The boy was diagnosed with an enlarged liver, spleen and needed to be hospitalized immediately. Hoa rode home that night to take her son to Children's Hospital 1 in HCMC.

Thu Hòa và con trai ở Bệnh viện Truyền máu huyết học 2, huyện Bình Chánh, TP HCM, tháng 3/2024. Ảnh Nhân vật cung cấp

Thu Hoa and her son Minh Hai at the Blood Transfusion and Hematology Hospital No. 2 in Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, March 2024. Photo courtesy of Thu Hoa

"That was our first ever battle," Hoa said.

Hai was sent to the gastroenterology department before being transferred to the hematology department. As his white blood cell count spiked, the boy was predicted to have a high possibility of sudden death.

Hoa then started to understand the gravity of her son's illness. Her hands trembled as she went through the stack of paperwork. The single mother used up all her savings and even borrowed more from friends to pay for her child's hospital bills.

In the intensive care room, Hai gave a sharp cry as a needle was injected into his body. His calling for help, "Mom, help me, it's too painful," broke Hoa's heart, the mother recalled.

Since he had yet learnt to keep still, every two hours, he ruptured his vein with the needle, totalling 21 times during a week in the recovery room.

"His little body was covered in bruises," Hoa said. "He's too young to fathom what's going on."

Hoa prayed every day for her son's healthy return. By November 2023, Minh's condition started to change for the better as he gradually recovered.

However, the family could only feel relieved for three days. One afternoon later, at the pediatric laboratory, Hoa collapsed listening to doctors' informing her that her son was diagnosed with leukemia.

At the time, Hai's treatment regimen would cost around VND1 billion (US$40,500), an amount of money that was way beyond Hoa's capability. She held her child tightly for the whole night and did not let go. After contemplating in the hallway for a long time she decided to pick up the phone to call her sister. They pulled out all the stops to borrow VND400 million and began the journey of fighting cancer with Hai.

"While there's life, there's hope. Even if the chances are slim, I won't give up," Hoa said.

The two-year-old boy only weighed about 8 kg then. During the first round of chemotherapy, his stomach started to bloat. He suffered from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) - a dangerous complication that can happen during cancer treatment.

The boy had a protein infusion tube inserted into his body and was not allowed to swallow saliva. His bed was closed off by a curtain, so that he could not see or smell food, causing salivation. When all the arm veins popped, they had to insert needles into his legs.

Hoa stayed by her son's sickbed 24/7. She would take pictures of him sleeping, smiling, capturing his transformation. The mother realized that, despite facing death, Hai was a very understanding and mature boy. He always remembered to spit and knew how to describe pain symptoms to the doctor.

"My child is so much stronger than I am," Hoa said, describing Hai as her motivation to overcome difficulties.

The day the doctor announced that Hai had passed the dangerous stage and could start eating thin porridge, Hoa immediately took the pumpkin piece out of the fridge to prepare soup for him. She turned to see her child hugging her and smiling right there.

Hai currently weighs 12 kg, and his life still revolves around the hospital room at the Blood Transfusion and Hematology Hospital No. 2 in Binh Chanh District, HCMC. The boy makes friends with other children patients while Hoa tries to sell fruit online.

In the afternoon, she would ask parents in Hai’s hospital room to look after him for a few hours while she delivers the fruits. Hoa uses the VND2 million earned per week to cover her and her son's meals.

Bé Minh Hải sau khi vượt đợt biến chứng men tụy ở Bệnh viện Truyền máu huyết học 2, huyện Bình Chánh, TP HCM, tháng 1/2024. Ảnh Nhân vật cung cấp

Minh Hai after having suffered from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency at the Blood Transfusion and Hematology Hospital No.2 in Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, January 2024. Photo courtesy of Thu Hoa

A week earlier, the doctor changing his IV tube made Hai misunderstand that he could go home. The boy even clapped his hands and asked his mother to pack his clothes. However, when the needle was re-inserted, he immediately dropped his smile and asked his mother when he would be able to leave. Hoa didn't know how to answer so she remained silent.

Watching her son, with a needle inserted into his arm, pushed his IV pole across the hospital room to hang out with fellow pediatric patients, Hoa bursted into tears.

In her eyes, each child in that room was like an angel. "I just hope to be able to stay with my child for as long as I can," she said.

With the goal of rekindling faith in pediatric cancer patients, Hope Foundation, in collaboration with Mr. Sun, launched The Sun of Hope program. Another contribution from the community means another ray of light sent to the future generations of the country.

Click here for contributions and further information on the program.

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