Five-year-old George Maksoud is one of the 10,500 Syrian refugees who arrived in Quebec over the last two years.
He suffers from muscle cancer in one leg, and getting access to treatment in Syria was difficult.
“At one point, we could not even get the drugs needed for George’s treatment,” said the boy’s father Mtanus Maksoud. “We’d have to get them in Lebanon or on the black market.”
George and his family came to Montreal in June, with help from a collective of artists who put together a private sponsorship for them. Since then, he has been under the care of doctors at the Sainte-Justine Hospital.
“We’re so impressed by the care,” said George’s mother, Hanaa Karkour. “It’s day and night with Syria.”
George had undergone chemotherapy treatments in Syria before the family fled.
“The child was fairly malnourished,” said Dr. Yvan Samson, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist. “What struck me, that we see less, even in children who do not necessarily speak our language, is how he was frightened. How, for him, every approach was terrorizing.”
Since then, George has gained weight and has grown more comfortable in his surroundings. His sponsors in Quebec take turns accompanying the family during the treatments.
The group of 11 sponsors, led by Quebec actor and director Philippe Ducros, crowdfunded $22,000 to help make the family’s journey possible.
Ducros, who spent time on a writing residence in Damas and Aleppo, said he was overwhelmed with support for his group’s venture.
“There were so many people offering furniture that we had to pick and choose,” he told Radio-Canada. “There’s a lot of talk right now about Quebec’s response to the arrival of immigration, and all that. What I feel, at least, is that people want to help.”
The Maksouds have three children in total: Joully (13), Eliana (10) and George (5).
They are learning French and trying to integrate into Quebec culture, all the while dealing with George’s illness.
Doctors say his chances of recovery are slim, as his tumour spreads to the groin and abdomen.
Still, the family holds onto hope — burning a candle day and night on a small altar in the parents’ bedroom.