By Bindu Rai
Iyob Kebede lies in his hospital bed, a defeated man.
His prognosis is ‘bleak’ according to his doctor, while his weekly life-saving treatment is now putting a drain on his family’s savings.
The only cure is a kidney transplant for which he is unable to find a donor or the means.
The 28-year-old Ethiopian is suffering from renal failure that requires him to endure haemodialysis treatment twice a week for the interim until he undergoes surgery – if he ever can, fears his wife.
The 28-year-old Tirsit spends her days caring for her husband and their two-year-old son Kirubel; the nights are spent ferrying passengers from Dubai Airport for the Roads and Transport Authority, where she works as a cab driver.
Iyob, who is also a cab driver with Metro Taxis, is currently on medical leave she says.
“I don’t know how long can we keep this up,” says Tirsit, wiping away tears as she looks over at Iyob, whose silent demeanour is only punctuated by the hissing of the dialysis machine he is hooked up to at the Belhoul Speciality Hospital, where he is currently being treated.
With hospital bills averaging Dh10,000 per month, the fear of the mounting expenditure keeps her from sitting still even for a few minutes.
“I have committed myself to 24-hour shifts at work so I can make the commissions. I need that money,” says an emotional Tirsit, who earns a meagre Dh1,000 basic salary. “People tell me that I will fall sick doing this. But how can I stop when Iyob needs this for his treatment? They tell me he has reached the cut-off limit for his health insurance for this year. I am unsure how to continue with his treatment when we exhaust our savings.”
According to his physician and Specialist Nephrologist, Dr Paulose Thomas, Iyob suffered from a history of pedal oedema (swelling of the feet and ankles due to accumulation of excessive fluid) for eight months, at the beginning of last year, and was advised to undergo renal biopsy.
Due to lack of funds, according to Tirsit, her husband travelled to Ethiopia last September to undergo treatment.
However, hurdles facing him in his home country had him return to Dubai in January, where his health continued to deteriorate until he finally returned to the hospital in May.
‘Why has this happened to us?’
As Iyob’s four-hour dialysis cycle finishes for the day, we walk over to the surgical doctor’s waiting room where he will be checked for any deterioration in infection.
Hunched over in his seat, Iyob talks about his past year of hospital visits and health checks: “It has happened. I now have to live with it. After being diagnosed here, I was scheduled for a biopsy, but I decided to fly to Ethiopia instead for further treatment.
“I was there for nearly four months, getting treatment in Addis Ababa. But there are just three hospitals that treat people with my condition and the waiting period is so long that I finally returned to Dubai.”
Tirsit continues: “Unsure where to go, I took him to Dubai Hospital next thinking a government hospital would be more affordable. But after a week of treating him, he was sent away with the message that there is a lack of space and he needs to find private care. That’s how we turned at Belhoul.”
Dr Thomas said the only cure for Iyob is a kidney transplant.
He said: “Usually, it is family that steps up as a donor, but in his case, Iyob says he has no siblings and his father is deceased. His mother is diabetic they say.
“There is an aunt who may step up, but in such cases, it is always good if the wife turns out to be a suitable match. But as no central registry for donors exists in the UAE, it would be best if his family steps up if they can.”
Tirsit has also agreed to step up and save her husband’s life if his aunt fails to be a match. But the fear of undergoing transplant surgery haunts her.
“My feet also swell up when I drive. What if I also have a similar health issue? What will become of my child if both his parents are sick? But of course, I cannot let my husband die. If he needs me, I will do whatever I can.”
Dr Thomas adds: “Patients such as Iyob can lead a relatively normal life as long as they continue to get treatment. But the only solution for a full recovery will be a transplant.
Upon the recommendation of the doctor, the Kebedes have also contacted hospitals in India, where dialysis treatment is “half the cost,” says Dr Thomas.
Turn to Tirist and the fear is etched on her face.
She says: “I don’t know what to do. My husband gets frustrated at me. I feel it’s all spinning out of control. Why has this happened to us?”
While the Kebedes struggle with the cruel twist of fate in their lives, friends and well-wishers are contacting the Ethiopian Embassy and other charity foundations to help the family.
“This is not what he had planned for our lives when we got married,” she says. “But we must do now what we have to do to save his life.”
What is haemodialysis?
According to the National Kidney Foundation in the US, haemodialysis is when an artificial kidney is used to remove waste and extra chemicals and fluid from the blood.
To get blood into the artificial kidney, a doctor needs to make an entrance into the blood vessels via a minor surgery to the arm or leg.
Sometimes, an access is made by joining an artery to a vein under the skin to make a bigger blood vessel called a fistula.