The family of the young Guinean woman who is awaiting a lung transplant arrived in Portugal on Tuesday. Their mother and three younger brothers brought with them a lot of homesickness and little else: everything they had fit in two handbags.
It was eight years alone in Barreiro’s small apartment, but this week the house was full of people. Isabel Bapalpeme, the 29-year-old Guinean girl who needs a lung transplant to survive, finally has the company of her mother and three younger brothers, who arrived on Tuesday from Bissau. She had only just met Brigite, the youngest, aged six, and barely remembered Biran and Salvia, aged 11 and 16.
“I’m very happy”, he says with an effort, with a faint smile. Even with oxygen at full flow, talking costs him more and more. The words come out to him, with great difficulty. Tiredness is extreme, even when sitting all day. “But the hardest part is over”, guarantees Isabel, because the process of coming to the family was far from easy or quick. Since 2018, the doctors who followed her asked for her mother to come urgently to accompany her. Her health status did not sympathize with loneliness and family support is one of the requirements for the transplant. The letters that Centro Hospitalar Lisboa Norte sent at the time to the Portuguese Embassy in Bissau, with the clinical description of the case, were never answered and the visa was eventually denied.
But everything changed with the publication of the Expresso report last month, which denounced the serious humanitarian situation of the young woman, who lived alone in the empty apartment, stripped of furniture and comfort, to which she was confined because she needed oxygen 24 hours a day, without autonomy even to reach the end of the street. The article generated a wave of solidarity among readers, who multiplied enough donations to furnish the house and pay, through a fundraiser, the plane tickets for the family. At the diplomatic level, the process of issuing visas for the mother and siblings was also unblocked, with the direct intervention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who instructed the embassy in Bissau to dispense with bureaucracy and act with the urgency that the case required.
Tuesday night they arrived in Lisbon bringing with them everything they had. And all they had fit in two small carry-on bags. Inside, there were no clothes to help them face a winter they’d never lived through. No school supplies or toys for the younger ones. Biran, 11, brought a single stroller with him. Brigite, who dreams of dolls, has none. Not even colored pens that she once liked to draw with. Salvia, the oldest, 16, just wants to go back to school and have books and a dictionary to study.
Saturday Bapalpeme, the mother, doesn’t miss anything. All she asks for, in the little Portuguese she speaks, is health for Isabel. In recent weeks the condition of the daughter has worsened. The young woman has had more and more episodes of hypoxia — a condition that occurs when the amount of oxygen transported to the body’s tissues is insufficient, causing symptoms such as headache, drowsiness, cold sweats and even fainting. To Expresso, José Fragata, responsible for the only Reference Center for Lung Transplantation in the country, which works at Hospital de Santa Marta, recognizes the seriousness of the situation and the urgency of carrying out the transplant, which awaits the appearance of a compatible organ.