The life-saving power of Friendship
As Nicole Maaka watches her son Levi zoom around Ronald McDonald House South Island’s Christchurch house with Hammad, 7, her heart melts.
For the first time in his life, Levi has a friend. A best friend.
“Levi’s recovery has been slow because he’s never had someone to recover with. But since meeting Hammad, he’s started fighting for his recovery, he’s started fighting for his life,” Nicole says.
Levi, who has an undiagnosed condition resulting in the loss of his large bowel and ¾ of his small bowel, has been part of the Ronald McDonald South Island family for almost a decade as doctors’ search for answers to his condition.
In June, he had his 100th surgery – just a month before his 10th birthday.
It’s a feat that seemed impossible earlier in the year.
“In January, Levi said he was going to die, that his body wasn’t going to make it through the surgery then.
“He had started to plan his funeral.”
But then just before the surgery, he met Hammad who has rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, at Ronald McDonald House in Christchurch and they bonded over Levi’s favourite game – Beyblades.
“Levi was playing Beyblades and Hammad was watching from a distance, so Levi asked if he wanted to play, and their friendship blossomed from there.”
The thought of having a friend to return to, Nicole believes, got her son through it.
“Hammad literally saved my son’s life,” she says.
Levi has had six surgeries since January and with each surgery, his recovery time has been faster.
“Now when he sees his surgeon and is told he has to go to Christchurch, Levi is excited. It’s the thought of coming back to Ronald McDonald House South Island and seeing Hammad that has given him his fight back.”
“When he gets out of surgery, he always asks his surgeon when he can get back to Ronald McDonald House to see Hammad and play Beyblades. His recovery time is faster because he has a purpose.”
Hammad’s mother Nida concurs.
“When Levi goes home, Hammad feels really sick and acts really sick, but when Levi is here, he’s running around all day.
“Trying to get Hammad up in the mornings is tough, but if I tell him Levi is downstairs, he gets ready so fast! Levi’s name is only the third name to make it back to family overseas. Everyone there knows Levi is Hammad’s best friend,” she says.
“It’s really hard to make good friends, and when you make a best friend, then you’re really blessed.
“I’m glad Hammad has made a best friend at such a young age,” Nida says.
The key to their friendship is treating each other as simply kids.
“Levi looks straight through any condition,” Nicole says. “They just connected on playing Beyblades and all the other stuff that goes with being a kid.”
Levi’s acceptance of Hammad has helped him grow in confidence during their time at the House, Nida says.
“Seeing Levi has always strengthened Hammad. He sees how strong Levi is and he gets his strength from that. He sees Levi up and running after surgery and he thinks, if Levi can do that, then so can I.”
While Hammad and his family returned home to Wellington in July, the friendship between the boys has continued through FaceTime calls and the families’ plan to reunite in Wellington during the school holidays.
“A friendship for Levi means more than anything, it is very powerful how it’s all worked out,” Nicole says.
“My son is still here because he made a friend. To me, that’s huge because I still have my child.”