Twenty-year-old Dhannya Sojan came to Canada as an international student one year ago from India with the dream of furthering her studies and building a life here.
“If I come here I can study, as well as I can work and after I study, I can find a job according to my course so I can give support to my family,” she said.
Sojan envisioned a future for herself in Toronto that would include a stable career as an accountant so that she could provide for her parents and three siblings back home.
Then, in August, she started to feel sick.
“I bicycle to the work area so I start to have shortness of breath and coughing non-stop,” she recalled.
Doctors thought it was pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics that did not help.
After several fainting episodes and visits to the hospital, Sojan got news she could never have expected.
“They find out I have congestive heart failure,” she said.
It’s a chronic progressive condition affecting the pumping power of her heart muscle.
“Actually I am OK but my heart is not OK,” she said.
Just last month, Sojan learned her heart is functioning at 20 per cent capacity and she may require a heart transplant.
It is a major medical battle for anyone, let alone a young woman by herself without family support.
Annie Mathews of Toronto Malayalee Samajam heard about Sojan’s plight and reached out to help.
“We couldn’t really leave a 19-year-old girl on her own without any support and we just had to be there and it was just a human thing to do,” said Mathews.
Toronto Malayalee Samajam is a community organization that represents people from Kerala, a state on the southwestern Malabar Coast of India where Sojan’s family lives.
The community in the GTA stepped up to help Sojan in the form of a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to support her medical needs.
“Dhannya is a very bright and hardworking young girl,” the GoFundMe page reads. “With their limited means, her family back home is not in any position to help her currently. Our collective effort and goodwill can help a young girl in her struggle for life. Relying upon the goodwill of all kindhearted people, we are submitting this appeal for help.”
Mathews said the support quickly came pouring in.
“All the people that supported us, it was amazing,” she said. “We came up with $100,000 within 21 hours.”
The generosity and kindness of strangers has been overwhelming for Sojan.
“I just have to tell everyone I am so grateful so thank you,” she said with tears in her eyes.
As an international student, Sojan is not eligible for Ontario’s health-care plan.
Mathews added that her limited insurance is bound to run out.
“The problem is if she needs to get admitted, if she needs more procedures, the hospital care is going to be very expensive,” she said.
For now, thanks to the University Health Network’s Transitional Care Program, Sojan is staying at St. Hilda’s, an assisted living facility in Toronto.
She is facing an uncertain future.
Doctors have told her there are three options on the table: medication that could help but will not fix the problem with her heart; an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which may reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death; or a heart transplant.
“I am strong. I think I can possibly overcome this but it is a shock,” said Sojan.
She would be willing to return home to India for the surgery, if necessary, but looks forward to the day she returns to Canada.
“It was one of my dreams to come here.”
At this point, Sojan would not be able to return home as she is too sick.
“She is not stable enough to fly so for her it is very important she gets treatment,” said Mathews.
Fortunately, Sojan has found support within a community that cares.