In 2007, 18-month-old Abu Baysultanov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. With nowhere in Grozny capable of treating him, he ended up being sent to Moscow.
It’s been twelve years. Now, Abu is a well-built, raven-haired youth, looking for all the world like a professional football player. He remembers nothing of his illness, and only knows about it from the stories reluctantly shared by his many relatives. He’s learned that they were with him every step of the way, from diagnosis to recovery—his grandmothers and grandfathers, his mum and dad, his uncles and aunts, and, of course, his little brother, who became Abu’s bone marrow donor.
Abu Baysultanov was born in Novye Atagi in the Chechen Republic. He and his family—his parents, his brother Ramzan, his grandma Malika and grandpa Alvi—are still living in the same village 30 km from Grozny.
Alvi, Abu and Malika
Abu is nearly 14. He’s not the talkative type, and he’s certainly not keen to talk about the illness he doesn’t remember. He wants to listen to music, watch videos on his smartphone, and chat online with his friends. He has a patient, friendly smile on his face as his grandparents tell us about his illness and the treatment he received. Abu thanks his doctors. It’s clear how very grateful he is.
He doesn’t talk much about himself. He has a good life, he likes playing football, and he can do three press-ups and two pull-ups. He enjoys his studies, with top grades in maths as well as Russian. He’s about to move up to Year 7, and he can’t wait to start getting chemistry lessons. His ambition is to become a surgeon.
“Alvi and I have four daughters and one son, and we’re already up to 15 grandchildren! When little Abu fell sick, we were told that we had to get him to Moscow post-haste, because that was the only place where he could get help,” Malika, Abu’s grandmother, tells us. “He was in a terrible state. He couldn’t get up at all, and his blood turned out to be 83% blast cells. Until that point, he’d had no symptoms at all. He’d always been well-fed, with healthy red cheeks… His mother, our daughter-in-law, was seven months pregnant, and we all went to Moscow together. While Abu was getting treatment, he got a new brother. That happened in Moscow, and the nurses called him… Ramzan! Then our daughter-in-law went home, and they decided that they might as well keep the name.”
Planned health check for Abu
Abu finished all his chemotherapy courses, went into remission, and was allowed to go home. But at his first check-up, the doctors discovered he was having a relapse. That meant the only way to help Abu was to urgently find a donor for a bone marrow transplant. Every relative gave their blood for analysis, but the only 100% compatible one was little Ramzan, who by then was already ten months old.
“They put it this way: either you go for this transplant, or in two months, Abu will be no more. We were terrified, what with Ramzan being still so young, but the doctors were confident that everything would be fine. They were absolutely right,” recalls Abu’s grandfather Alvi.
The transplant was a complete success. Both Ramzan, who spent four hours donating blood cells, and Abu, who spent several months in a glass sterile room, were no worse for wear. Throughout the transplant, his grandfather was by his side, then his mother, then his aunt.
Little Abu was pale all over, without even eyelashes or eyebrows. But it only took a couple of days for him to start feeling better.
Right now, Ramzan, his saviour, is eleven. This time round, he really wanted to join Abu in Moscow. “Why aren’t you taking me with you? I was born there, and yet I’ve never seen the place.” “I wouldn’t put anything past that utter rascal,” says Alvi. “He’s nothing like his level-headed brother. Even Abu’s schoolteachers praise his composure.”
They’re blood brothers twice over, and yet they’re so different? “We fight every now and again, and then I win,” Abu tells us with a smile. “But when he’s being told off, I always step up to defend him. After all, I’m his big brother.”
As we wrap up, the whole family once again thanks the doctors who were with them all the way to the finish line. Malika apologises for crying, but Abu isn’t even surprised. He’s used to having everyone around him talk about his illness, but to him it isn’t even a distant memory.
Gift of Life thanks all donors and supporters! Together we give children like Abu a better chance to beat cancer.
Read Abu’s story in Russian here.