Becky's trip of joy

SHE has a smile as wide as any happy-go-lucky 12-year-old and she couldn't be more at home in her new surroundings.South African youngster Becky is today a picture of happiness as she...

SHE has a smile as wide as any happy-go-lucky 12-year-old and she couldn't be more at home in her new surroundings.

South African youngster Becky is today a picture of happiness as she acclimatises to an English winter after travelling thousands of miles to be with her parents in Ravenswood, Ipswich.

Yet behind her beaming smile is a story of an incredible struggle against a devastating disease which claimed the lives of her birth parents and has made every day of her young life a battle for survival.

Becky was born with HIV and she is now one of hundreds of thousands of African children fighting an epidemic which has blighted an entire continent.


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But thanks to the drugs which have transformed her life, and thanks to the love of her adoptive parents, Ipswich couple Xris and Karl Kroger, Becky has made her first trip to her family's home in Ipswich.

After months of nervous waiting and protracted negotiations with the South African government, Becky was allowed to travel to England to be reunited with Mr and Mrs Kroger on December 12.

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Since then the trio, along with Becky's big sister Trish, 28, have wasted no time in catching up on lost time - they shared a special Christmas together at the family home in Mansbrook Boulevard, Ravenswood, and have now welcomed in a new year together which they hope will bring continued improvement in Becky's condition.

When Becky was born in Stellenbosch, near the southern South African city of Cape Town in 1994 her mother was already severely ill with Aids.

Weighing just two-and-a-half pounds and infected with HIV, the virus which leads to Aids, Becky's chances were thought to be incredibly slim.

It was then that Mrs Kroger, then a financial manager of Child and Family Welfare in Stellenbosch, began to care for tiny Becky in hospital. At first she fed her through a pipette and had clothes as small as a doll's made for her.

With all expectations that Becky would die within weeks, Mrs Kroger took her home to spend her last days.

Six months after Becky was born, her mother succumbed to the disease and Mrs Kroger sat by her side until she died. Ever since, her focus has been on helping Becky defy those early predictions.

Mrs Kroger said: “Becky was minute when she was born. When she first came to us we had an emergency baptism for her because everyone thought there wasn't going to be any future for her at all.

“Then she started to gain weight and have milestones and suddenly we found ourselves at her first birthday.”

Since that first birthday Becky's story has been a tale of one success after another.

The first four years of her life were dominated by illness - the HIV weakened her system so much that she moved from one cold to another and although she recovered each time, each bout of sickness took its toll more than the last.

Then Mr and Mrs Kroger heard about the Nazareth House Convent in Cape Town which was caring for children in situations similar to Becky's.

The task of looking after her was becoming so hard the couple reluctantly made the decision to put her in the care of the convent's Sister Margaret and ever since she has been looked after by the sisters at Nazareth House.

Mrs Kroger, who now works as a credit controller, said: “I contacted Sister Margaret at Nazareth House and at that time she had 35 babies with HIV/Aids who weren't able to live at home anymore.

“They had an infrastructure in place which meant these children could be seen to at the Red Cross Hospital.

“After many conversations with them we decided probably the best situation for Becky was for her to move to Nazareth House.

“It was very, very hard but you had to think it was not about us it was about what Becky needed. To this day I still maintain it was the best thing we ever did.”

In 1999 Mrs Kroger and Mr Kroger, who works in IT in Ipswich, emigrated to England from their home in Stellenbosch after Mrs Kroger's eldest daughter Trish, a paediatric oncology nurse, moved here.

The decision to leave Becky in South Africa wasn't an easy one but it was crucial for her to continue receiving her care and treatment in Cape Town.

Then, four years ago, Becky's biggest breakthrough in her struggle against HIV/Aids came when she was chosen to take part in a drugs trial being run at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital.

She was put on an anti retroviral treatment (ARV) which helps her body fight off infection. Four years later she is a fit and healthy 12-year-old showing few signs of the illness.

Mrs Kroger said: “She wouldn't have been able to make a trip out of South Africa ever without having these ARVs.

“In the beginning she was very, very ill. She thought she was going to die. Then things started to settle down once they sorted out the dosage.

“Sometimes now she gets extremely tired but the results have been fantastic, they really have. Her health is excellent. It's wonderful - the ARVs have given her a life.”

The drug treatment programme is funded by London-based One to One Children's Fund. Without the money the charity provides, Becky would lose her lifeline.

Rita Eker MBE, the charity's co-founder and director, first saw Becky about four years ago, two years after One to One first heard there were HIV positive children at Nazareth House who were missing out on essential treatment.

She has since been stunned by the 12-year-old's improvement and said: “Becky is an ambassador for all the kids in Africa. This is what we can do for others - with everyone's help.”

BECKY is anything but the picture of the South African HIV/Aids epidemic many people would imagine.

She is a bubbly, vibrant 12-year-old who you could never guess was afflicted by HIV/Aids.

Born on November 27, 1994 with the disease passed down to her by her dying mother, Becky has fought against its effects her entire life.

After moving to Nazareth House when she was four, Becky now lives in a cottage near to the convent called Arnold Cottage.

She is one of six girls there and they are cared for by the house mother, Auntie Bonna, and her assistant Diana.

Becky attends St Agnes Primary in Cape Town, where she is going into Year 7. When asked if she enjoys school Becky quite confidently says “no” but it's not all bad.

She said: “I like to study art and culture.

“I like playing outside on the swings. We climb trees and play netball. But soccer is my favourite.”

Coming to Ipswich has been exciting for Becky, particularly since she flew on an aeroplane for the first time. On top of that she got to have a kick-around on the pitch at Portman Road and was part of the guard of honour which welcomed the players on to the pitch when Ipswich Town took on Leeds.

Becky said: “I was excited to come to England. The flight was wonderful, I liked everything about it.

“The football game was my first game that I've been to. First we played the kids' game, then we stood where the players come out.”

She has also visited Lapland with her parents to see Father Christmas and saw snow for the first time and this week is visiting London where she has a visit to Hamley's toy store and the West End shows The Lion King and Mary Poppins planned.

And later this month she will have tea with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Cherie Blair at 10 Downing Street as a guest of the One to One Children's Fund.

But it has been the time spent with her adoptive family that has been of greatest importance to her during her trip to England.

And when she heads back to Cape Town on January 31 she will take with her plenty of special memories.

Becky said: “I'm going to miss the house here. Ipswich is my first home now.”

How you can help.

SUFFOLK School of Samba is hosting a fundraising event in support of Becky.

Becky's parents Xris and Karl Kroger are both members of the band and their fellow members are giving their time to help raise money to help provide items such as pots and pans, blankets, medicines and school books for Nazareth House.

The funds will also go towards buying larger items such as cupboards, tables and fridges.

The evening of “Afro Brazilian grooving” will take place on January 13 from 7.30pm at the Ipswich Caribbean Club on Woodbridge Road.

Oli Watts, band leader, said: “Xris and Karl have been incredibly active and supportive members of the band.

“We don't often get the chance to support a cause which has such a good link to our members.

“Becky is a young lady who is quite remarkable. Everybody in the group who has met her would agree she has a certain sparkle about her.”

The samba band will be supported by The Roger Band, The African Song Group and The Djembe Drum Group, who have all offered to give their time for the event.

There is no ticket charge for the evening but a donation of about £3 will be asked for. Children will be able to make a smaller donation.

WEBLINK

www.suffolksamba.com

Nazareth House in Cape Town was established as a Catholic convent in 1880.

The convent's sisters care for young children infected with HIV/Aids who can no longer live at home either because their parents have fallen victim to the disease themselves or can no longer look after them.

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