For Monica and Arvind R Vohra, it all started in 2011, when their 5-year-old son, Aaryan, fell sick. Repeated bouts of high fever led to a series of diagnosis, from viral fever, typhoid, to other infections. When his fever shot up to 106 degree Celsius, he had to be hospitalised. With his haemoglobin count down to 3 gm/dL, the test results brought horrific news to the distraught parents, their son had Leukemia (blood cancer).
Once the shock settled, the Vohras prepared for the long battle.
“The first three-four months were very tough. The chemotherapy sessions were very intense. We also learnt that the chances of recovery are as high as 90 per cent in children below the age of 14,” says 48-year-old Monica.
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The statistic was an eye-opener for them. They had assumed the worst, and then they realised that if this information came as a surprise to them, what could be said of people from underprivileged, unexposed sections of the society? It was this statistic that pushed the Delhi-based couple to start Leukemia Crusaders (LC) to help raise awareness and provide financial assistance to children battling Leukemia across India.
Since its inception in November 2013, this organisation has been able to support the treatment of 1,240 children across 42 hospitals in 17 states.
The lack of funds should never be a reason why a child is not treated, says Monica, the Managing Trustee of LC.
She explains that the cost of treatment varies from which hospitals the parents approach to the type of cancer the child has and the duration of treatment that one has to undergo. “The cost could range anywhere between Rs 3 lakhs to Rs 8 lakhs,” she clarifies.
What does Leukemia Crusaders do?
Once the couple had decided to forward financial help to other parents facing the same situation, Monica and Arvind spoke to Aaryan’s doctor to understand the logistics. Speaking about the information they received, Monica says, “We were advised to wait until Aaryan completed his treatment before we started. However, both my husband and I were of the opinion that the sooner we started the more children we can help.”
The Vohras were told that though a number of government schemes exist to fund the cancer treatment of underprivileged children, the lack of awareness of these schemes was the biggest hurdle. “There are various government schemes available for the treatment of blood cancer, but since most parents are unaware of these, very often they either abandon the treatment because of lack of funds or do not get the children admitted at all,” explains Monica.
Health Minister’s Cancer Patient Fund Under “RAN” is one such scheme for cancer patients in India.
Till the family makes arrangements for alternate finances, LC funds the treatment for 20 to 25 days in some hospitals to upto a month in others. The organisation calls it “Bridge Funding”, and has found it an effective way to ensure continued treatment.
“In most cases the abandonment of treatment happens in the early stages and that is where LC steps in. We provide funding for the treatment to be started within 48 hours of the case being recommended to us. This enables for the treatment to start and then they can apply and get the other relief from various channels, because leukemia does not give you time, says Monica.
On an average, LC spends Rs 30,000 to Rs 75,000, depending on the case and the treatment required for each child. When asked about the source of funding for LC, Monica informs, “We had a tie-up with a mobile company initially; for every handset sold we would get a percentage. Now we approach companies who with a CSR arm.”
Also, to check whether the claims are genuine, LC pays the hospital directly. “No money is ever paid to the patient or the family, it is always routed directly to the hospital where the child is being treated,” explains Monica. LC have tied-up with 40 hospitals across India.
Criteria for providing financial assistance:
• The child suffering from blood cancer must be below the age of 18
• The assistance is reserved for underprivileged families
• Application and documents recommended by treating doctor
• Flow of ﬁnancial aid is provided as per recommendation of the treating doctor
• The funds get transferred to the hospital in installments
• The hospital submits original bills regularly to the trust
A personal connect
While all the children that the organisation helps is special to Monica, one that left a deep impact on her was 15-year-old Dushyant.
“One night my husband’s barber came home at night and told us that his son was detected with blood cancer. He had to bring his child home as he did not have the funds to admit him in the hospital. We ensured that they got the child admitted in the hospital to arrest the fever.”
Monica continues, “We got him admitted and even after that it was a very rough ride. He developed an infection and the doctors almost gave up on him. But, almost miraculously, his blood count started improving and he got better.”
Monica tells me that he is in 10th standard now and even today, without fail, the father sends Monica a message every week saying – Dushyant theek hai (Dushyant is fine).
While the doctors keep telling Monica and Arvind to keep their emotions aside while dealing with patients and their families, Monica says that they have not been able to do so. For them, each case is important and they build a connect with each child.
Monica and Arvind’s son, Aaryan, now 13, has been in remission for over five years now.
During the course of this interview, the tough and brave survivor was away at a State level Shooting Championship Meet!
Life is never a straight going. It throws us up, brings us down, twists and turns, and it tests. What matters is how you pick yourself up and charge ahead. While some people buckle in, some people take it on their chin and go on to build on their experiences and make a difference to society. Monica and Arvind R Vohra definitely belong to the latter category.
For more details about Leukamia Crusaders, do check their website here.
Also Read: A Conqueror’s Guide on How to Beat Cancer
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)