Fund raiser for 8-year-old leukemia-stricken girl

Photo of Leah Cumberbatch at six years old.

The parents of an eight-year-old Vincentian girl, who is stricken with leukemia, have received much-needed financial boost to help defray exorbitant medical bills after her relative conducted a fund-raising prayer breakfast last Saturday at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn resident Brenda Alexander, aunt of Leah Cumberbatch, the third child of Mrs. Alexander’s brother, Norman Cumberbatch, and his wife, Avril, of Belair, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said she was compelled to help Leah’s parents in their acute time of need by conducting a second fund-raising prayer breakfast since Leah was diagnosed with the disease, when she was six, in 2012.

Leukemia is cancer of the blood or bone marrow, which produces blood cells. A person who has leukemia suffers from an abnormal production of blood cells, generally leukocytes or white blood cells.

“I knew that I had to give support in one way or the other since, as a parent, I could identify with Leah’s parents, having a sick child and not knowing the outcome,” Mrs. Alexander, a Born-Again Christian at the United Community Baptist Church on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life.

“I decided to get involved in a fund-raising drive for Leah because the compassionate and Godly nature in me knew that it was the right thing to do in helping someone in need to bear his or her burden,” she added.

With the assistance of a few friends, Mrs. Alexander, a former police corporal in the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, said she planned the first prayer breakfast in April 2012.

“This was, indeed, a success, and it was overwhelming to see the outpouring of support from friends, villagers and total strangers,” she said, disclosing that the second prayer breakfast will help in assisting with the “ongoing expenses involved in Leah’s follow-up treatments” in Barbados, which includes airfares and other related expenses.

Mrs. Alexander said, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, within five minutes of her dad, Cecil Cumberbatch, discharge from Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn for pneumonia, she received a call from St. Vincent and the Grenadines from her eldest sibling, Sybil Jackson, that it was just confirmed that Leah had been diagnosed with leukemia.

She said that Leach’s parents were devastated by the news and “could not be consoled,” adding that doctors had told Leah’s parents that her only chance of survival was to get her immediately to a hospital in either the United States or Canada.

Within days, Mrs. Alexander said Leah was accepted and flown by air ambulance to London Health Sciences Center in London, Ontario, Canada.

She said the hospital bill in Canada amounted to the tune of US$280,000.00, “of which her dad’s insurance (at Scotia Bank, where he works as an officer), was able to cover 80 percent of the cost.”

Leah’s father said her cancer treatment, which included chemotherapy, should have lasted for six months but was prolonged to one year “since the hospital will not release her until they were satisfied that she was well enough to leave – a frustration period for Leah, her mom, and the rest of the family at home.”

Mr. Cumberbatch said Leah was finally given the “green light” to return to St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Dec. 18, 2012 – “just in time for the Christmas holidays.”

He said Leah is now close to ending the first phase of a “very crucial two and a half years of intense treatment” under the care of Dr. Elizabeth Cairney, head physician at London Health Sciences Center.

Mr. Cumberbatch said her treatment, over the years, comprised five different types of chemotherapy treatments, on a monthly basis – three orally and two by I.V. (intravenous).

Additionally, he said, since January 2013, Leah has had to visit the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, for treatment every month.

She also has travelled to Barbados nine times since returning home for the “more complicated lumber puncture (LP), where she receives chemotherapy into the spinal cord by needle,” Mr. Cumberbatch said.

“These treatments, along with the daily and weekly chemo (chemotherapy) pills, and the grace of God have been instrumental in ensuring that Leah is alive and well today,” he said, revealing that the final trip to Barbados for this phase of treatment ends on May 1.

Afterwards, Mr. Cumberbatch said there would be check-ups, starting at three-month intervals.

Despite Leah’s “many setbacks” during her treatments and having missed classes at the Kingstown Preparatory School at least two or three days each month, he said she was still able place 13th among 33 children in her class in the pre-Easter term, with 69 percent.

Ex-St. Vincent and the Grenadines police corporal Brenda Alexander addressing the prayer breakfast.
Photo by Nelson A. King

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