British cancer boy Ashya King arrives in Prague for treatment

8th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Ashya King, the five-year-old cancer patient whose parents sparked an international manhunt after they took him from hospital in Britain, arrived in Prague Monday for potentially life-saving treatment after leaving Spain.

"I'm so happy, for one month I've tried to get here and now we've arrived, it's amazing," Ashya's father, Brett King, told reporters upon landing in the Czech capital Prague where the boy is slated to undergo alternative therapy.

"When you see my son, you'll see it's worthwhile," he said, as Ashya appeared pale and fatigued while attendants loaded him into an ambulance.

Earlier Monday, Czech doctors expressed concern that Ashya's parents, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, could object to a necessary blood transfusion.

The proton beam therapy that Ashya is expected to undergo at Prague's Proton Therapy Centre (PTC) is said to be more precise than traditional radiotherapy, allowing doctors to deliver higher doses of energy to a tumour while better sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

Peter Wilson, lead paediatrician at Southampton hospital in southern England where Ashya was treated for his tumour, did not believe the alternative therapy would offer any benefit over radiotherapy treatment.

A medical plane carrying Ashya took off from Malaga in southern Spain headed for the Czech capital on Monday after health and legal authorities finally sealed the formalities for his transfer.

The doe-eyed boy has been in the middle of a legal saga that began when his desperate parents took him out of a British hospital against doctors' advice on August 28.

That triggered a cross-border manhunt that saw the parents jailed for four days in Spain before being freed and emotionally reunited with Ashya at his bedside in the Maternity and Children's Hospital, Malaga.

The case dominated British media, with public opinion shifting from outrage to sympathy for parents Brett King, 51, and his wife Neghemeh King, 45.

The couple said they took their son abroad to avoid radiotherapy treatment that they believed would turn him into a "vegetable". They argue that such treatment is too strong for a child.

British prosecutors at first suspected them of cruelty but later dropped the case, acknowledging that Ashya had been properly looked after.

Before moving him from hospital in Spain they had to wait for a British court to give up its legal custody of Ashya, which had been imposed after they were detained.

Ashya, who has undergone surgery for a brain tumour, is now headed to a Czech centre specialising in proton beam therapy, a treatment that was unavailable to him in Britain.

- Proton beams -

The Proton Therapy Centre (PTC) in Prague said its experts would fast-track their procedures for the young patient.

"He will be transferred by ambulance to our oncology and haematology clinic for initial tests," Miloslav Ludvik, director of the Prague hospital, told journalists on Monday, prior to the child's arrival at the clinic.

Jan Stary, head of the children's haematology and oncology clinic, said Ashya could begin to receive the therapy next week at the earliest.

He estimated that Ashya had a 70 percent chance of survival if all the treatment went well.

According to the PTC, the procedure costs about 1.8 million kroner (65,000 euros, $84,000) in the Czech Republic, compared with 108,000 euros in the United States.

The Kings, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, have said they will sell a home they own in Malaga to fund Ashya's treatment. Donations are also reported to have flooded in from well-wishers.

The couple's legal troubles prompted an outpouring of public support in Britain, where tens of thousands of people signed a petition calling for the boy to be reunited with his parents.

The case even gained the attention of Prime Minister David Cameron, who upon learning that the case against the Kings had been dropped, tweeted: "It's important this little boy gets treatment and the love of his family."

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© 2014 AFP

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