Brave Samira's message from Moscow to big-hearted readers
A five-year-old Uzbek girl who needs lifesaving treatment for leukaemia has thanked this newspaper for raising awareness of her plight.
Little Samira Sharipova has been getting medical care in Russia, as it is unavailable in her home country, but the money required to treat her has run out.
Ulster Unionist politician Rodney McCune is spearheading a campaign to raise £25,000 for the sick child, who, at just four months old, was the youngest guest at his wedding in 2010.
Mr McCune's wife Firuza (nee Karimova) is a friend of Samira's mother Gulrukh Sarafona, and both are from Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last week, 39-year-old barrister Mr McCune spoke of his devastation at the little girl's illness.
"I was very upset when Samira was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May 2014," he said. "Uzbekistan is not the wealthiest country in the world, but Samira's family and friends managed to scrape together £50,000 to pay for treatment. Now, though, they are struggling to raise more, and that's why I wanted to try and help."
Mr McCune has pledged to help raise money via crowdfunding.justgiving.com/SaveSamira, which has seen donations increase by over £1,000 since the initial story appeared in the Belfast Telegraph last Wednesday.
There is still a long way to go before the target amount is reached, but in the meantime Moscow-based Samira has posted a photograph of herself on Twitter along with a heartfelt message of thanks reading: 'Thank you Belfast and thank you Belfast Telegraph! Love Samira.'
The McCunes, who met in London when Firuza was studying IT and Rodney was practising at the criminal bar, have one son, Charlie, who is three.
"When you're the parent of a young child it obviously makes anything like this more personal," Mr McCune said.
"I know there are many worthy causes out there - in Northern Ireland and beyond.
"But, for me, it's very sad to see any child's life reduced to a financial element, and that's why I wanted to see what we could do.
"This only comes down to money. Samira is already two-thirds of the way through her treatment. Not every child who's ill can be saved but, with financial support, Samira can be."