Courageous leukemia survivor, 9, receives visit from Santa after life-saving treatment
If anyone deserved to receive a little festive cheer from Santa, it was the brave Nathaniel Nabena.
To say the nine-year-old had a roller coaster ride in 2021 would be the understatement of the year.
The little boy survived leukemia thanks in no small part to the incredible generosity of the readers of The Sunday People.
A family friend arranged for Santa and his elf to visit Nathaniel and his sisters Nadia, 11, and Nicole, two, on Christmas Eve.
Papa Ebi beamed: âNathaniel appreciated, it was a surprise. It was something to cheer him up. They sang songs and danced and asked the children to complete a puzzle and gave them gifts.
âNathaniel got a VR headset that was on his wish list. It will keep him busy while he isolates himself at home. He was very surprised.
âLast year Christmas was about his illness. He was bleeding from his nose and mouth. To see him smile this time is very special.
Nathaniel is building his strength after life-saving leukemia treatment and protection three months after being declared cancer-free.
But despite his weakened state, Nathaniel was keen to send a message to our readers who helped raise Â£ 216,000 in 10 days to fund a stem cell transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
He said: âI feel a lot better, although sometimes I am tired. I mean Merry Christmas – and thank you everyone.
Sometimes the Nabenas feared that they would not be able to raise funds in time to fund Nathaniel’s life-saving treatment.
They celebrated Christmas by eating jollof rice, playing Scrabble and exchanging gifts in Croydon, south London.
Ebi said: âWe are so grateful that Nathaniel is with us. It has been a difficult year but we are thankful to God and we are always here to fight.
âI am truly grateful to the Sunday People, the hospital staff and of course the British public for helping our case. God bless everyone who has helped us – it has really helped me through this last year.
âMiracles only work with the help of people. Everyone is part of this miracle.
âFor 2022, we hope for a full recovery for Nathaniel so he can start his life. Illness robbed him of his childhood, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Their celebrations are very different from last year, when the family were 3,000 miles apart and fearful for Nathaniel’s health.
Ebi and Nathaniel had traveled to the UK in November 2020 so the boy could have a prosthetic eye, after losing his left eye to another cancer, myeloid sarcoma, in the family’s native Nigeria.
But shortly after their arrival, Nathaniel was rushed to Croydon University Hospital with a fever and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which affects around 100 children a year in the UK.
As Christmas 2020 approached, doctors gave him tests and he began conditioning treatment, although he was allowed to visit relatives on Christmas Eve.
Meanwhile, frantic mum Modupe, 38, and her daughters Nadia and Nicole were stranded over 3,000 miles in Bayelsa, Nigeria.
Ebi, 46, recalls: âWe were so worried he was so sick and we had so much in front of us. In Nigeria, children would have new clothes,
especially for Christmas, and we had family and friends and all went out together to eat and have a drink and we had a great time.
“Last year, even though we were staying with relatives, Nathaniel and I had to stay in a room away from everyone because his immunity was compromised and we couldn’t risk him getting any more ill.”
The family later learned that Nathaniel’s only chance for survival was a life-saving stem cell transplant that would cost up to Â£ 825,000, as he was not a UK or EU citizen.
After revealing their dire straits in February, readers helped raise Â£ 87,000 for chemo, which improved his condition to the point where he became eligible for the transplant.
Modupe and the girls joined Nathaniel in the UK, and the GOSH consultants kindly waived their private fees to help him, bringing the cost of the transplant down to Â£ 201,103.
But in May, the family still faced an urgent race to raise the almighty sum in 10 days, the window of opportunity in which the transplant would have the greatest chance of success.
Following a people blitz, celebrities including Simon Cowell and David Walliams helped smash the goal of raising Â£ 216,000 – and Nathaniel started treatment within days.
“It’s pretty amazing to think of everything that happened – I don’t think it has sunk even now”, Ebi
In September, we shared footage of the heartwarming moment Nathaniel rang on GOSH to celebrate his going into remission.
But it hasn’t been easy since then.
A month later, he contracted a life-threatening infection and was hospitalized for two weeks with a fever and nausea.
The doctors acted quickly because Nathaniel’s immune system remains compromised and the infections can be dangerous.
He was treated for four nights in Croydon and referred to GOSH for antibiotic treatment for 10 days.
Since then Nathaniel has largely stayed indoors, said Ebi, business analyst: âHe rested, played his game and took each day as it comes. We are currently very cautious due to the situation with Omicron. “
He is still in the care of GOSH and Croydon hospitals as he is at risk of further setbacks, the father said.
The boy will be eligible for NHS care as the Home Office has granted the family leave to stay in the UK for 30 months, with the
possibility of extending it later.
Deji Sijuwade, senior partner at Alfred James and Co’s attorneys, said: “The request is now accepted, and Nathaniel and his family are now allowed to stay in the UK.”
Nathaniel – who is in fifth grade – took online classes during his recovery. Her greatest hope for next year is to “make new friends”.
Ebi added, âHe can’t wait to get back to class with the other kids.
“He’s missed him so much after everything he’s been through, and he just wants to be a normal boy again.”