Seven-year-old Suraj from Bihar’s Katihar district is already a charmer. Sitting on his mother’s lap sporting a red tee emblazoned with the words ‘Dark Angel’, he flicks a ten rupee coin repeatedly with dexterous flair. On meeting someone for the first time, Suraj turns to his mother for directions on etiquette and flashes an infectious smile. It’s hard to believe that a year ago this bony boy, suffering from blood cancer, was so emaciated that a spoon of dal and rice would make him throw up. His weight had dropped to eight kilos as opposed to the ideal weight for his age: 22 kilos. “Eight kilos was his weight when he was six months old,” recalls his mother.

Roli Kakkar, mother to another seven-year-old Suhani from Dombivli is exhausted chasing her daughter around the courtyard at Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital. “She’s always running around with her toys or her cycle. I get tired but she doesn’t,” says Rekha, before recounting that in September when Suhani arrived at the hospital, “she would lose breath after a bit of walking. She stopped eating. Her father, a security guard had to stop working to take care of her.”

Leukaemia patients Suraj and Suhani who come from poor families were languishing from malnourishment before they received help from Mumbai’s Cuddles Foundation—which addresses nutritional needs of disadvantaged cancer-stricken children across the country. For children with cancer, nutrition is often what can make a life altering difference. Every year, 50,000 children are detected with cancer in India out of which 80% are found malnourished at diagnosis. A majority come from low socio-economic backgrounds and small towns. When they move to big cities to seek treatment, they either end up living on footpaths or in shelter homes. On most days they go without three meals including the child with cancer.

“In the start, we were losing out 40 percent of children to abandonment of treatment because money received as donation is designated for chemotherapy and medicine, not food. Since they were malnourished, they couldn’t assimilate chemotherapy and would suffer from seizures, toxicity, their gut lines would erode,” explains the NGO’s founder-trustee Purnota Dutta Bahl, who has 30 nutritionists—trained under a paediatric oncology nutrition fellowship program—on board, They not only prescribe customised diet plans but also redesign meals inventively during the chemotherapy phase—when the kids’ taste and appetite are altered. Their creative platters include dough kneaded with milk instead of water; sattu, bajra and til in roti and pizza-style bread topped with boiled vegetables and grated cheese.

(Some names have been changed to protect privacy)

 

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Published by: Times Of India
on April 15, 2018

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