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Kevin's battle with leukaemia:

Rage, rage against the dying light

by Elmo Leonard

A piece of art by Kevin Yapa 14

When Larry King told a little girl who suffered from a rare disease and was not aware that her days were numbered: "Uncle Larry loves you very much and wishes you will live long," millions of eyes went moist. Perhaps, more touching is the case of a bright Sri Lankan boy, Kevin Antonio Yapa, who celebrated his 14th birthday in Asiri Hospital, Colombo. Kevin knows the dilemma he faces, resulting from a rare disease of the blood. This boy's individuality and mannerism was just beginning to manifest itself, when anguish struck.

Kevin began school at Ecole International Kandy. After two years, his father, Anura Keshara Yapa now 39, who works at Avant Guard Security, Nugegoda, was transferred and Kevin changed over to Leighton Park International School, Gregory's Road, Colombo 7. In spite of his always skinny frame, he was the champion athlete, until two years ago, when injury kept him out of competitions.

His events were, 100 and 200 metres, long jump and the relays. He also won at the inter-international sports meets. He was just taking to soccer and if his school played cricket, his batsmanship would be cherished, his friends in his neighbourhood said.

Kevin also took part in the Motor Crossing in Diyatalawa, when he was 10 and 11 years old, and won. Kevin is a very good artist and has made a splendid portrait of Indian actress and Miss World 1996, Aishwara Rai, which he keeps in his hospital room. Kevin also likes to visit the zoo and drawing animals and landscaping, often dotted with fauna is another forte.

Kevin's mother Angela Yapa 35, works at Tritel (Pvt) Ltd, Duplication Road, Colombo 4 (now on indefinite leave). On school holidays, his aunt Ronda de Silva a housewife, had five children on hand, including Kevin.

Kevin was the live wire at home, and their chief chef, being very innovative in turning out dishes and dressing the cuisine, while three girl cousins also helped, Ronda said. Neighbours in Malabe said that Kevin has the reputation of a Dennis the Menace and they miss him. So do all the children in his school, who say that he is the most popular student among them.

On February 19, Kevin had a running fever and had four red patches on his face and hands (now, known to have been due to internal bleeding) and had to have a full blood test done. The results were very abnormal, and Kevin was hurried to Asiri Hospital Colombo. Leukaemia or Aplastic Anaemia (which cannot be treated with drugs) was suspected. Dr. Shirantha Mendis, the paediatrician ordered a bone marrow biopsy. During a very painful 90 minutes of drilling the spine for marrow, Kevin spoke to the doctor.

Pujitha Wasalaarachchi, MD, oncologist, Cancer Institute, Maharagama has certified that the boy was diagnosed with severe Aplastic Anaemia after bone marrow aspiration and trephine biopsy. He may need a bone marrow transplant for which "we do not have the facilities in Sri Lanka".

"He was transfused two 300 ml units of Leucocyte poor irradiated red cells and two units of platelet concentrates after pre-medication with Hydroncortiosone and Chlorpheniramine as he has a history of asthma and food allergy," Dr. Wasalaarachchi, has recorded.

Later, Kevin's platelet dropped to 10,000 and 9,000, when for a normal person, the count is 150,000. At this low count, Kevin has to avoid injury, because his blood will not clot. A small blow, which does not open up a wound will cause internal bleeding, and to the head, it would be fatal.

As Kevin was too weak to be taken to hospital, every day, Asiri hospital sent an ambulance, to take away a syringe of blood for platelet testing.

Leighton Park International, granted their most popular student, indefinite leave for his treatment. Kevin was admitted to Christian Medical College, Vellore, India, under the care of Dr. Mammen Chandi, chief of Haematology Department. Tests revealed that his sibling's marrow would not be suited for Kevin.

The second type of treatment is horse serum or ALG in medical terms. The animal serum injected into the human spine has terrible reactions and Kevin suffers much, we are told. Kevin also depended on the Indian blood bank for platelettes.

April 13, Kevin came back to Sri Lanka. On April 18 he began on the drug, Cyclosporin 1000 ml twice a day. On day one, a side effect was bleeding from the mouth. If the side effects are bearable, there is a chance, that horse serum would work for some time. However, Kevin has to go back to India end-June, to find out whether his bone marrow is growing. When in Sri Lanka, a syringe of his blood needs to be taken every day, for palette testing.

Already Rs. 2 million ($20,000) has been spent coming from school donations, the relations' and the Yapa's savings. The Yapas' who live at 224/10 Malwatte Road, off Kahantiota Road, Arangala, Malabe always gave the best to their children. Now, all has run dry. Kevin's ailment necessitates lifelong treatment, which means inestimable expenses through Kevin's life, which he is not aware of.

At a later date, a bone marrow transplant has to be done. If the Yapa's could find a donor, the expense for the bone marrow operation would be Rs. 6 million, if the hospital finds the donor, the expense would exceed Rs. 10 million, they were told.

Please contribute to Kevin Antonio Yapa, Commercial Bank Malabe, number 8860007878. This correspondent pledges to keep readers informed of Kevin's progress.


The letter sent by Kevin to this correspondent before he left for India. Which was delayed and arrived last week.

"I am Kevin Yapa a grade 8 student of Leighton Park Int School. I will be 14 years on the 15th of March. I have been diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anaemia, which is a very rare blood disorder, where my bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells. I am at hospital now as my doctor says I can't go home because I need blood palette transfusions.

The only way I can get well is by getting a bone marrow transplant. Sri Lanka does not have the facility to perform this transplant. My 4 year old brother Kian would be giving me the bone marrow. He is very scared that the doctors would hurt him, but my mummy says that's the only way that I can live. So Kian says that he will give me his bone marrow if we buy him a toy.

"Since my country does not have the facility to do this transplant my mummy Kian and I have to go abroad for this. We need a lot of money for this and my family does not have. We need about Rs. 3 million for this.

"If all the Aunts and Uncles who are reading this can give me a little money, I will be able to do this bone marrow transplant and live a normal life. I am waiting to go back to school as I miss my friends very much. My teacher says that they all miss me very much because I am the naughtiest student in class.

"I am a really good artist and athlete. I used to win a lot of medals. I want to be a chef like my uncle when I get big. I also want to work in a big hotel like him.


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