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November 19, 2012

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Triumph over adversity for young battler

IT'S been touch and go for nine-year-old Xu Ping'an since his battle with leukemia touched Shanghai hearts last year, triggering an outpouring of donations to help pay crippling medical bills that have already exceeded 1 million yuan (US$160,310).

The little boy finally underwent a marrow transplant earlier this year, but months later, his frail body seemed to be rejecting the transplant and a viral lung infection left him at death's doorstep.

But his story, since it was first reported in Shanghai Daily last year, has been one of triumph over adversity. Today, Xu Ping'an bravely clings to life, inspiring those around him.

Shanghai Daily revisited the lad earlier this month. Looking up from his wheelchair, he flashed the victory sign.

"Without the help of so many caring people, I would have already lost my child," said his father, Xu Xuebing. "It has given us hope for life."

The family has lived on hope since their son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February 2007. They moved to Shanghai that year from their hometown in east China's Jiangxi Province to seek better medical treatment.

On doctors' advice, the father and his wife Zhang Yuehong had a second child, hoping for a source of umbilical stem cells to save Xu Ping'an.

But the second son was born with a congenital heart condition, ruling him out as a donor.

After exhausting their savings and borrowing what money they could, the Xu family was destitute when Shanghai Daily and other local media heard about their plight a year ago. A public appeal for donations raised more than 240,000 yuan.

The donations helped pay for a transplant operation last January, using the mother's stem cells. Xu Ping'an survived the initial surgery and appeared to be on the mend.

His younger brother, who is now 14 months old, also recovered from arrhythmia after getting medical treatment.

Prognosis called poor

However, in September, Xu Ping'an developed a viral infection in his lungs and his condition deteriorated. Doctors said his body appeared to be reacting badly to the transplant.

He grew thin and his skin turned unnaturally dark.

Doctors said the prognosis was poor when the boy was moved out of hospital in mid-September.

He had to sit in wheelchairs because he could barely walk after lying in bed for nearly 10 months.

The family moved him to a guesthouse instead of returning him to their former rented home on Jiangchuan Road.

Xu Xuebing said the new place was quieter and more private, and he feared his former landlord wouldn't want a dying boy on his premises.

"We know some of our neighbors don't like living next to sick people. They talked a lot about my son under the table and might complain to our landlord," the father said.

"I don't want to place the landlord in a dilemma. He is a nice guy and rented the room to us at only 600 yuan, which is much lower than the market price," he said.

"Besides, my son still has a weak immune system and needs a better living environment than our place. Our home is too messy," the father said.

The decision pushed the family into a worse financial situation as the room in the guesthouse costs around 150 yuan a day, adding a great burden to their current housing cost.

The parents are currently jobless.

In the past two months, all treatment was stopped. The boy's parents started to prepare for his funeral.

"Doctors told us he could die anytime," the father said. "He had seen such little beauty in this world, so we decided to let him do anything he wanted to do and eat anything he wanted to eat."

'Seeing is believing'

Maybe it was the change of environment. Maybe it was the release from intensive medical care. Maybe it was just love and hope, but Xu Ping'an's health started to show signs of rallying.

Doctors were surprised to see the change when the boy had an examination in early November.

"Seeing is believing," the father said. "My wife and I have drawn strength from the good faith of so many people. It has really touched us."

"We have been unsure of his condition and we have remained silent because we didn't want to cause any heartbreak for all the people who have helped us so much," the father said.

On a brief wheelchair stroll through a nearby supermarket last week, the boy said he likes instant noodles, red grapes, oats and cereals.

"He has been going through ups and downs," the father said.

"The latest good turn is a positive sign, but we're not sure if he will recover. We just continue to hope."


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