By Bejay Browne
WHEN I was asked to write my top story of 2013, I knew immediately what it would be.
I could have written about Solidarity charity which is doing such a marvellous job of helping to feed the needy in Paphos, or about the ladies behind the ‘Gift of love Cyprus’. Both are deserving of a special mention, but the story which affected me most this year was that of baby Zoe Dhull’s fight for life.
Now nearly six months old Zoe is astonishing doctors with her swift recovery from a life-saving heart operation in Israel, weight gain and sunny disposition. Back in June, such progress seemed impossible.
Zoe was born at Paphos general hospital on June 25 to parents Virginia Taguinay, 32, from the Philippines and John Dhull, 31, from India. She was a healthy three kilos and the family planned to leave Cyprus shortly after her birth.
Two days after Zoe was born the first time parents were informed that she had severe breathing complications caused by a heart defect which had gone undetected during pregnancy. Zoe was rushed by ambulance to the MakariosHospital in Nicosia. Her distraught parents had no private medical insurance and were unable to obtain a state medical card, which would have covered the baby’s medical expenses, as their visas had expired.
They were given less than two weeks to raise the 15,000 euros needed to pay for a vital cardiac catheterisation procedure in Israel, as the operation cannot be done in Cyprus. The parents had no way of raising such an amount. When the Cyprus Mail covered the baby’s desperate plight on its front page, the health ministry stepped in and offered to pay the costs of the operation.
At just three weeks old Zoe underwent the operation on July 7 at the Schneider Children’s Medical Centre in Israel. At first it seemed neither of her parents would be with her as their visas had expired, but at the last minute immigration authorities granted John a one month re-entry visa to Cyprus.
Now back in their small, sparsely furnished flat in Paphos, Zoe’s parents are still overwhelmed by their traumatic experience and their daughter’s amazing recovery.
“Christmas came early for us; we look at Zoe every day and are so thankful for her life,” the couple told me during a recent visit.
The pair is living on the poverty line, reliant on help from friends and a local church; they have just approached the Solidarity charity for help.
They spend what little money they have very carefully but often invite their friends over for a meal, where they all share what little food they have together.
During my visit, John insisted I try his Indian Pakoras, which were delicious. I was touched by their generosity and incredibly positive, grateful attitude to life.
The family says they now view Cyprus as ‘home’ and would love to stay here permanently. But they realise this is unlikely and say they are planning to live in either the Philippines or India. “We don’t mind which, as long as we’re together,” they said.
The family has been granted permission by the immigration authorities to stay in Cyprus until Zoe’s treatment is complete.
But while the hurdle of the operation is now over and prospects look bright for Zoe, money worries remain.
The couple is still facing outstanding bills for Zoe’s treatment at both Paphos General and Makarios hospital, incurred prior to her operation in Israel.
She currently has to visit the Makarios hospital in Nicosia every couple of weeks.
“The ministry of health paid for Zoe’s operation, but we have to pay for the treatment and her hospital stays in Cyprus. This would be covered if she had a medical card, but they won’t give us one, despite a recommendation from her doctor, as she is a heart patient,” said John.
The outstanding debts amount to 2,384 euros at Paphos GeneralHospital and 5,253 at Makarios hospital.
Where the needy family is expected to find close to 8,000 euros is anyone’s guess, and they are clearly worried by the situation.
The couple says they will apply for their baby’s medical card again, as pressure is mounting for them to pay the outstanding bills.
But for the time being they are focusing on Zoe.
“She means everything to us, we can’t wish for any more.”