ABU DHABI // When Hajo Jara Tolu was told she had tongue cancer, the Ethiopian’s first concern was not for her health but that she might lose her job as a housemaid.
She need not have worried. The kindness and generosity of her Emirati employer, Shabeeb Al Hajri, 60, has overwhelmed her.
Not only did her sponsor of three years insist that Ms Tolu stay in Abu Dhabi and get the best treatment locally, he also offered to pay Dh150,000 for the operation and follow-up care that her health insurance did not cover.
Mr Al Hajri, who described her as “a member of the family”, also insisted he pay for a six-month round trip for Ms Tolu, 38, to go back to Ethiopia to see her five children and husband as soon as she was well enough.
In the meantime, he employed another maid to care for her while she recovers from her operation.
“She has been with us for three years. She is like part of the family,” said Mr Al Hajri, a father of 12 from Al Rahba.
“She is like a mother to the children. After she knows she has cancer, she says ‘I will go to my country to get treated there’. But I said no, because treatment there is not good.
“Every family should be doing this [for their maid] when she is sick. All the family said they would collect the money to pay if the insurance refused to pay for the surgery.”
Doctors at Mafraq Hospital, where Ms Tolu was treated, said Mr Al Hajri waited outside the operating theatre while she was having surgery, and made daily visits to her bedside while she recuperated.
Sitting up in her hospital bed 10 days after the operation, Ms Tolu is frail but beaming. She smiles profusely when asked about the generosity of her sponsor.
“I give thanks to him. He is good. Every day he comes to see me,” she said.
Ms Tolu said her health began to deteriorate three months ago after developing a mouth infection.
After many tests, she was told she had tongue cancer.
“When they told me it was cancer I thought I do not want to get into trouble,” she said.
“I requested to go home but my sponsor said ‘no, you get treatment here and get well soon’.”
Dr Muqdad Al Hammadi, a consultant plastic surgeon at Mafraq Hospital, who headed the team operating on Ms Tolu, said the operation was 100 per cent successful.
It involved a complex, 10-hour procedure to rebuild Ms Tolu’s tongue, which had to be severed to completely remove the tumour. Reconstruction specialists patched up the tongue using tissue from her arm.
Next week Ms Tolu will be discharged from hospital, and will undergo radiation therapy. She will also have follow-up care with speech therapists to practise talking and eating with her reconstructed tongue.
Had she returned to Africa, Ms Tolu might not have had the specialist care she needed, according to Dr Al Hammadi.
This could have led to the cancer returning and spreading, he said.
Dr Al Hammadi said hospital staff had been struck by Mr Al Hajri’s kindness.
“The sponsor, really I don’t want to say I am surprised, but I find it very kind and very nice of him to respect the housemaid as a member of the family,” he said. “He could easily have said ‘she is sick’ and send her home. But I found kindness from him in keeping the patient here, to do the surgery here.”
The doctor added: “I think there are a lot of people who are kind and nice, but this is the first case I have seen like this.”