Job loss leaves expat family in Abu Dhabi with son in long-term care grappling with bills


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Abu Dhabi: For nearly three years now, the Alberts have spent almost every waking minute tending to their adult son in long-term care. Their lives haven’t been easy, but the situation was complicated further when Neville Albert, the family’s breadwinner, lost his job earlier this year.

Now, with medical bills mounting and no relief in sight, the family is at a loss.

“I have lost track of the amount of money we owe. My son’s care at the rehabilitation centre alone costs Dh39,000 a month. Then, there are the outstanding bills at the hospital where he was first admitted after the injury, and with the banks from which we have borrowed to pay medical bills, and our rent payments are coming up. Amidst all this, I have been unemployed since January,” Neville Alberts, 55, a South African expatriate, told Gulf News.

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Unexpected injury

Gulf News had reported in August 2019 how the Alberts were a regular family living in Abu Dhabi when in November 2017, Tristan, aged 18, suddenly slipped into a coma. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and respiratory failure.

Alberts said at the time that he had not been aware of Tristan’s use of unprescribed gym supplements.

“What we regretfully did not know was that Tristan had been taking a range of unprescribed supplements given to him by members of the gym he frequented. My son was never diabetic, and the insulin supplements sent him into a hypoglycaemic coma, and induced traumatic brain injury and respiratory failure,” he had said.

After three months in the intensive care unit of a private hospital in Abu Dhabi, Tristan was transferred to NMC Provita, a post-acute care centre, where he has been housed ever since. Despite daily care, he is entirely dependent on others for his basic needs, including feeding, medication and movement. He also cannot communicate with those around him.

Things worsened in 2020

“My wife and I would visit our son every single day. But things have taken a turn for the worse this year,” Alberts said.

He had been employed as a bodyshop manager at an automotive dealer, but was let go as part of what he was told was a ‘restructuring’.

“Because of the pandemic, I have not been able to find a job. The bills are continuing to grow, and I already owe the banks Dh300,000 as I had to borrow to fund Tristan’s treatment. Moreover, Tristan’s progress has stalled lately. He needs brain scans to guide his treatment, but each scan costs between Dh5,000 to Dh10,000, and that is money I simply do not have,” Alberts said.

Unable to visit

In addition, Alberts and his wife, who also have a 29-year-old daughter, have been unable to visit their son as regularly as they used to as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

‘Swathed in masks’

“Visits were not allowed for the past few months in order to ensure the safety of patients. It is only recently that we have been able to see Tristan again, swathed in masks and PPE [personal protective equipment],” Alberts said.

The father has repeatedly cautioned other families to keep an eye on even teenage children, especially as they could be putting themselves at much risk without knowing it.

“We, as a family, really and truly miss our son and brother. It has taken a huge toll on us over the past 32 months. The stress and tension of it all is not easy to handle at times,” Alberts said.


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