They cling to hope as their son fights a losing battle with Leukaemia

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

Bruised and battered, mentally rather than physically by cruel destiny, they keep vigil at his bedside, clutching at a sliver of hope.

Hope is all that is left, for the doctors at the Cancer Institute at Maharagama have told them to take Rajith Kavinda home as there is nothing more they can do. Desperate, Damayantha Gunasekera, 43, and his wife, Swarnalatha Damayanthi have brought him to the Paediatric Ward of the Gampaha Hospital as he is running a temperature and has other infections.

Rajitha Kavinda (above): The only nutrition that enters his body is through a nasal tube and (below) his grief-stricken father.

“We will not give up hope,” says Damayantha who along with Swarnalatha watch over him tenderly during the day. It is at night that he goes with a heavy heart to their tiny home at Bemmulla to get a few hours of sleep and be back at the hospital early next morning with a set of washed clothes. Every evening he takes the soiled clothes from the hospital so that his devoted parents can wash them and have a clean set ready for the next day.

“The days are passing. We eat whatever we get and exist on whatever our relatives and friends give us,” sighs Damayantha.

All for the love of their son. Rajith Kavinda who will turn 11 tomorrow, April 18, is skin and bone……..emaciated beyond belief, his tiny body ravaged by Leukaemia. Now, the only nutrition that is going into his body is through a nasal tube. There will be no happy birthday celebrations for him.

He was not like this some months ago, says Damayantha, as unbidden the tears come and we feel the anguish of a father. He spreads out several photographs, even some recent ones, where the boy sans hair due to cancer treatment poses with his Thaththi.“That was when we took him to the zoo,” murmurs Damayantha, “and I carried him around all the while.”

In the photo of Rajith Kavinda as a smiling six-month-old baby, there is no indication of the illness that would befall him. He is a robust baby just like any other. It was a usual life, like for millions of others, for the couple when they married in 1998. Damayantha was from Mawathagama, Kurunegala and Swarnalatha from Mawanella.

They made their home at Mawathagama as Damayantha was running a small hotel there. What more could they ask when fulfilment came in the form of a healthy baby boy on April 18, 2000. The first warning of trouble came when their little one was just over 1 ½ years old. The baby was stricken by diarrhoea. He couldn’t eat and he had some blisters behind his ears.

The hospital rounds began then – first to Kurunegala Hospital and later to Peradeniya Hospital where the little boy was warded for four days and a battery of tests carried out. “The bone marrow test showed that he had Leukaemia,” says distraught Damayantha.

It was to Maharagama Cancer Hospital that they went thereafter, hearing the prognosis of 50-50 chances of survival. The routine of hospitalization and clinic visits took over their lives, willingly adhered to, for their boy. Unimaginable have been their sacrifices – Damayantha and Swarnalatha selling anything and everything that they called their own……the small hotel, the property they had and even the jewellery that Swarnalatha possessed.

After the initial treatment Rajith Kavinda recovered. The relapse came in 2001when he was hospitalized for a whole year undergoing a course of medication. Current alluwa, says Damayantha, explaining that he was given radio therapy. Whenever he went into remission, Rajith Kavinda “kedi kedi iskole giya,” says Damayantha, explaining that he went to school on and off.

By now they were living on “other people’s support”. Rajith Kavinda relapsed again in 2005 and it was then that they packed up, left Mawathagama and came to live in Colombo. They rented out a small home at Bemmulla while Damayantha took up a job at Gateway International School.

“I worked there for about four years and they helped me a lot,” says Damayantha, but he was not able to go to work regularly and had to quit because the work needed to be done. The next episode of illness came in 2009 and twice a week for 76 weeks they gave injections and radio therapy to Rajith Kavinda. All earlier bone marrow tests after treatment had indicated that there were no cancerous cells but last year the picture changed. The results made them reel with sorrow and despair, for 90% of the cells were cancerous.

Five months ago he got fits and his right side became paralysed, says Damayantha. It was then that the oncologists requested them to take the boy home. Memories of happier times flow. Rajith Kavinda is a clever boy, says Damayantha amidst sighs and the unshed tears he quickly wipes with a handkerchief. He used to repair phones. He was very good at mechanical stuff.

He was not only a lovable son but also a loving one. Although he is unable to express himself now, tiny tears gather at the corner of his eyes and flow silently when he hears his beloved parents talking to him.

He used to call me his hadawatha (heart) and wouldn’t allow me to leave for work, pleading, “Mage langa inna” (stay by my side), says Damayantha. When he asked him how they would live, the boy used to say, “Hinga kala, thiyena deyak kala imu”. (Let’s beg and eat whatever we have).

As life ebbs away from Rajith Kavinda’s cancer-wracked body, Damayantha says, “If he can talk, we don’t mind him being bedridden.”

Frustrated at our inability to do anything, we leave the parents with thoughts that as long as there is life there is hope. Having sacrificed all their worldly possessions and facing the fear of losing their one and only son, hope is all they have.

In need of air bed

Rajith Kavinda’s parents have one desperate plea. Having been confined to bed for so long, the boy has developed one bed-sore with the danger of more.

Please help us to get an air-bed to relieve my son’s pain, pleads Damayantha, from generous donors. If you wish to help this family, contributions may be sent to Account No. 026-2-001-3-7652645 at the Gampaha People’s Bank.

Damayantha may be contacted on 0786791013.

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