Public raises $3.4M for sick girl
-after appeal on Channel Six

Stabroek News
October 28, 2002

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A cry for help made by a very ill six-year-old child on the Channel Six 'Voice of the People' show recently saw Guyanese from all walks of life contributing $3.4M in only three hours for her medical care.

The child, Venola Sam is suspected of having an acute case of lymphoblastic leukaemia which has became so severe that the child, who is in constant pain, can no longer walk.

The child's mother, Cottie Sam, after making several appeals to government ministries and other organisations still could not raise enough money for her child to undergo surgery at the Mount Hope Hospital in Trinidad.

Her last resort was to visit CNS Channel Six where she told her story to the owner of the television station, Chandra Narine Sharma, who then decided to place her on his Voice of the People programme. It was after Sam told her story and Sharma made an appeal to the public for help for the child that the money started pouring in.

The child and her mother also received two return tickets to Trinidad from Universal Airlines on Friday.

Sharma on Friday told Stabroek News that he was most surprised at the response of the Guyanese public after he opened the phone lines.

Sharma said the support indicates that there is still unity among Guyanese people despite all that has been happening lately. Asked what about the child's illness motivated him to make such an appeal on his programme, Sharma pointed out that it is not the first time he has made such appeals. He recalled the appeal for help for the people of Mahaica who were flooded out a few years ago.

Sharma said because of his religious upbringing he was always taught to help those in need and that is his everyday mission.

"But still I could not believe that all that amount of money could have been raised in such a short space of time. What I have done no one has ever done in the history of this country," Sharma said.

Venola lives with her parents and two siblings at 24 Section 'C' Golden Grove. Her mother said that it was last October the child started complaining of pains in her feet.

She was taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital and it was found that her blood count was low. She said the doctors suspected that the child might be suffering from sickle cell anaemia but a test proved that theory wrong. "But the pain continued and I keep coming to the hospital all the time with nothing done and it was just confusion," the woman said.

She said during this time the child was tested three times for sickle cell anaemia and all of these were negative and the last test was sent to Canada.

According to the woman the results of the test were returned in August and it was said that the child possibly had leukemia. But this could only be confirmed if a bone marrow test was done. This will be done in Trinidad following which the child will undergo surgery and treatment will then follow. The mother said since she could not afford to travel to Trinidad for the treatment a letter was given to her to visit First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, who heads Kids First Fund, but she was told that the fund could not foot the bill.

After this she visited the Ministry of Health but the ministry could only afford to give her US$8,000. Hospital officials in Trinidad said that she would need an additional US$8,000 before they could admit the child to the hospital.

Sam said after visiting Evening News and having her plight publicised there was still no support so she decided to visit Sharma who agreed to air the child's condition on the television station.

Last Monday the child was admitted to the hospital for a blood transfusion since her blood count was too low for her to travel. She has since been discharged and she and her mother were expected to leave the country over the weekend.

The woman said her child's treatment would take three years and the money donated by public-spirited citizens would cover all the cost for the treatments. Sharma said that even after the medical bills are paid there would be some left over which would be placed in a bank account for the child. (Samantha Alleyne)