After Leyla

Everyday we witness child patients` struggle to survive. They live through pains greater than their small bodies so much so that their suffering cannot be stopped even with heavy painkillers like morphine. What we do is trying to make their time in the hospital a little prettier.

Leyla was only 6,5 months old when she first came in for treatment at Istanbul University Medical School Hospital. Soon she was diagnosed with rhamdoid tumour; a new kind of cancer. Leyla’s little body was not going to be able to fight it long.

Övgü Sinem Buğan, Yüsra Betül Medik and Kübra İlicepınar were three bright students at the School of Medicine. They got to know Leyla at the hospital and witnessed all her treatment stages.

First Time Meeting Leyla

“We met Leila on an eid morning. She was the first little one we met in our Paediatric Oncology Ward. She did not get the chance to go home much due to her illness. We learned through her mother, as Leyla was too young to talk much, that she wished to have a bike.”

These three kind-hearted friends got together to develop a project, which would help all the children struggling with this disease. However there was heavy bureaucracy and many procedures to be followed. Getting approvals, carrying out official procedures and naming the project in order to make every child’s wish come true took a long time.

It was one of these days that they were running around to get the bureaucratic stuff done. Övgü Sinem Buğan found Leyla`s mother`s phone number in her room. Leyla came to the mind of doctor-to-be Övgü. It was a holy day. Övgü Sinem Buğan called Mrs. Fatma to say greetings. Then

she hesitantly asked about Leyla. Fatma could barely tell her that her daughter passed away. As Övgü called, Fatma was indeed making sweets to give away to the neighbours as a blessing for the young one’s soul. Övgü Sinem had no words to say. They both hung up with heavy hearts.

Övgü Sinem was so sad after this phone call. She deeply regretted not to have gotten Leyla’s gift on time. Her short life did not give them enough time to do it. The cancer spread to her little body faster than they thought. In one of those days that they felt so down after little Leyla’s death they have made that big decision. They were going to fulfil the wish of every child patient that they meet at the hospital. They failed to fulfil Leyla’s wish while she was alive and now they would fulfil that wish for those children they meet after Leyla. With these vivid thoughts they named their organization “After Leyla.”

The idea, which started with three young doctors, was soon heard out and wide. Many medical students, who will as doctors soon hold the hope of life for many patients, offered a helping hand to make the children`s wishes come true. Starting with Istanbul School of Medicine in 36 schools of medicine across Turkey the charity movement of “After Leyla” built a network of kindness.

They started to work toward the happiness and joie de vivre of little bodies whose tiny arms were decked out with serums and mouths closed with masks. The child patients were spending majority of their time in the hospital. The blood value of the kids who received chemotherapy would drop immediately after a couple of days and they would become vulnerable against all sorts of health threats. Since their immune system was down they could easily get infected and suffer high fever. So the families would rush them back just a couple of days after they were released from the hospital. The masks worn by doctors, nurses and hospital attendants serve to prevent the wearers from spreading viruses to the patients, not the other way around. The worlds of children, who lost hair and paled out in the face, start to resemble each other. To make a fun activity in the hospital was invaluable for families who are generally hesitant about contacting people out of fear of infections for their little sick ones.

The medical students who joined After Leyla Movement invested themselves so much in these children and their families that they would play games and draw pictures together. Sometimes they would cheer them up with cartoon character masks; sometimes they would bring little presents on their birthdays creating great moments in their hospital rooms.

The children were in love with those medical students in white doctor’s coats, who cared and played with them. Soon they started to regard them as sister, brother and friend. They would even ask their doctor friends when they got bored. The young doctor candidates also changed in the process. They felt happy as they witnessed children’s happiness and strove more to fulfil their wishes and mobilized the people around them to this end.

While getting involved with the children in paediatrics ward Övgü Sinem says “Everyday we witness children`s struggle to survive. They live through pains greater than their small bodies so much so that their suffering cannot be stopped even with heavy painkillers like morphine. What we do is trying to make their time in the hospital a little prettier.”

In a short space of time After Leyla movement spread. The medical students announced it through social media and online websites. To make a child laugh, to be a gift for a child, to alleviate a child’s suffering a little bit, to be the voice of a child…

Connecting Patients with Volunteers

After Leyla Movement first started with two to three-person teams of medical students. These teams started to regularly visit the children at the hospital. Initially the children were cranky, shy, and unwilling to talk but they could not resist the charm of these young people. Before long they would get in the groove with these fun doctor-to-bes. Their relationship grew deeper everyday; they would talk about the movies they have watched, about the colours they love, what they want to be when they grow up. The next would be finding out their wish in life; a bubble-gum, a balloon, a doll, a toy car, a chocolate, a teddy bear, a musical instrument, a soccer team uniform were among dozens of wishes… The only wishes of some children were mere french-fries or cheese crackers. Once they find out the children’s wishes After Leyla Movement teams would set out to fulfil them. They would post them on the website they have opened up for this purpose and let everyone know.

How Wish Fulfilment Works?

The medical students would post a note on their social media accounts and the movement’s website about the child patient’s wish along with a little info about the child, then wait for the volunteers to show up. Those who would like to fulfil those little wishes would get them and mail it to the hospital or deliver them in person. When the box comes in the mail the medical student in charge would receive it and pass it to the child. They would also take a picture as the child receives the gift and post it online for the donor to see.

The donors would even compete with each other in this charity. The online conversations among them would be like “You have already fulfilled the wish of such and such child, so please allow me to fulfil the wish of this one.”

The medical students take this voluntary charity work very seriously and keep contact with the children even after they fulfil their wishes. They become friends and visit them at every opportunity. They love every child they visit like their own and support them in every which way possible.

The Joy of Children as Their Wishes Fulfilled

Four-year old Hümeyra was being treated in the hospital for a certain kind of haemophilia. When medical students went to meet her at her hospital room they found her speaking to her parents. Although they tried to talk to her she did not pay them much attention. They did not give up though and thought about another way to get to her. They admit that getting admission into a child’s world is both easy and difficult. Believe you can and you are half way there. Although Hümeyra did not initially communicate with the medical students she could not remain totally indifferent to their presence. They started having conversations, playing games and drawing pictures. Hümeyra changed as they played, she cheered up, she started to laugh. When she laughed the students were relieved. Her troubles troubled them as her happiness cheered them up… Happy for spending time with them Hümeyra would tell that she would like to be a doctor when she grew up. Her only wish was play dough. Soon after they posted her wish online a donor has mailed it to the hospital. The best moment was to share the happiness as she opened her box. The medical students sharing Hümeyra’s excitement would with the consent of her parents post the picture of that joyful moment online.

Hasan is only 10 years old. Unlike other young patients he is full of energy. The medical students had no difficulty becoming friends with him. He wanted to be a pilot and promised that he would take them off to their travel destinations for free when became a pilot. They planned together where they would love to go on a trip and so on. Hasan’s wish was a toy helicopter with remote control, which arrived from a donor who saw the online post about it.

The parents are so happy thanks to these kind hearted medical students who put a smile on their children’s faces. These fairy-like young people give psychological support to the families as well. They started a project to provide a chance for parents to have a break and rest while getting psychological support. The parents sometimes break into tears in front of the doctors or share their troubles with them, as they are unable to show their emotions before their sick children.

Every medical student volunteering in After Leyla Movement refers to the sick child whom s/he regularly visits as “my child.” Once the child is hospitalized they regularly spend time together. These times are crucially important to maintain high morale in children when they are in between injections, blood tests, serums and drugs in boring hospital rooms as it pulls them out of that suffocating world. The medical students enter their world and share their dreams; they laugh when they laugh and get sad when they feel sad.

The medical students’ social awareness campaign helps child patients open up and get out of their depressive mood. Moreover the students work hand in hand with child psychiatrists on how to approach the children thus they provide professional support to the children.

Their lecturers also support After Leyla team. Particularly Istanbul University faculty member Prof. Dr. Bülent Zülfikâr’s communication with child patients is an inspiration for the team. They admire how he addresses each child patient by name and shows diligence and attention while taking care of them and try to emulate it.

Fulfilling the sick children’s wishes did not only make the children but also their parents, volunteering medical students, and the donors happy. According to young doctor-to-bes doing good lets them experience this indescribable emotion.

They are goodwill ambassadors, who set on the road to make the world a little better, to put a smile on child patients’ patients. They find out about sick children’s wishes and wait for the donors to help them out. To make a child happy is something that has no other match in the world. After Leyla movement team says that their goal is not to meet needs but to fulfil wishes. And they do full justice to this social awareness campaign.

One Drop, One Hope

The founders of After Leyla Movement are spearheading another project called One Drop, One Hope, which aims at delivering blood and thrombosis to the child patients at the hospitals when needed. They ask the donors to fill out the form designed for this purpose online and when this type of blood is urgently needed they get in touch with the donors requesting them to make the donation. Hence they give support to child patients on both emotional and physical level. In other words After Leyla team puts their best efforts to get the children feel and do better.

One idea… And three kind people who gathered around that idea… Now After Leyla is a huge project spanning across over thirty schools of medicine with thousands of volunteering medical students having fulfilled wishes of over two thousand sick children and keeps going without any benefits in return and on voluntary basis only…

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