A doctor’s father who died of a rare brain tumor aged just 30 wrote two children’s books for his three-year-old son as a final heartbreaking gift for his little boy.
Manchester pediatrician Aria Nikjooy was only 27 years old when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor called Grade 4 cerebellar medulloblastoma in November 2018.
Despite the removal of the tumor, the cancer returned several times before spreading to his spine, and he died on February 8 of that year.
While undergoing chemotherapy in 2019, he wrote Eddie and the Magic Healing Stone to explain the illness to his parents to his young son Eliyas, who is now three years old.
Before Aria died, he managed to get the book published last September and read it to Eliyas with the little boy on his lap – a bittersweet moment for him and his wife, Naomi, 33, the family doctor.
Another children’s book, Eddie and the Last Dodo on Earth, about the importance of family, will be published shortly – one final surprise for Eliyas.
Naomi said, “I’m so proud of Aria. Many people dream of writing books and always talk about them, but never get around to it.
“He was in the worst condition he could be, but he was still motivated to write books for our son.
“When I read his second children’s book, I cried – it was so beautiful.”
She added, “It will be emotional to read Eliyas here without Aria, but I’ll do it for him.”
Life was good for Aria and Naomi before Cancer turned their lives upside down.
After meeting at the University of Birmingham in 2012, where both studied medicine, the two married in 2016 and moved to Manchester in 2017, just before Eliyas was born in July.
Passionate about his job, Aria was working the night shift pediatrician in the neonatal ward at Saint Mary’s Hospital in town when he began to suffer from terrible headaches.
He attributed this to the pressures of his job combined with the stress of Eliyas, who was a year old and hospitalized overnight with an infection in September 2018.
In early November 2018, however, his headache got so bad that he had to go home for a shift – and that wasn’t all.
Naomi said, “Aria told me he called a nurse when he started blurring his words.
“All of a sudden I knew it wasn’t right and I said, ‘You need to see a family doctor’.”
She continued, “But he was so bad that night that I took him to the hospital the next day and he had the scan and hours later the doctor called us back to talk.”
She continued, “Since we were both doctors, we knew what that meant – but we didn’t say it aloud to each other.”
They were told that there was a “suspicious mass” in Aria’s brain that they had sampled for testing.
Naomi said, “No medical training could prepare any of us for this news. It was just a shock. “
The couple were determined to protect their young son.
“We did a good job protecting Eliyas from that,” said Naomi.
“We were just trying to pretend everything was normal – smiling, playing, knowing that Aria was about to have an operation.”
She added, “He didn’t know anything was wrong at the time.”
Aria had the large tumor on his cerebellum removed in a seven-hour operation at Salford Royal Hospital on November 9, the day before his birthday.
During the operation and since Eliyas was in the nursery, Naomi and her family were anxiously gathered in the patient’s waiting room.
Naomi recalled: “The neurosurgeon, Mr. Pietro d’Urso, was absolutely amazing, but it was still the longest wait of our life.
“It felt like days.”
To her relief, when the surgeon came out said he had removed all of the cancer.
For the next three months, Aria was sick every day and out of balance because the tumor was in his brain.
Since Eliyas could not visit Aria in the hospital because he was too unwell, he began to ask his mother where his father was – and it was an ordeal for Aria not to see his son.
Naomi said, “I felt so horrible seeing Aria like this. He kept telling me that his main goals were to get back to me and Eliyas and get back to work – the place he absolutely loved. “
He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, eat and write. After he was released from the hospital in early 2019, Aria decided to write a children’s book for his three-year-old son Eliyas to regain his writing skills.
Eddie and the Magic Healing Stone were written at home when Aria was undergoing four rounds of chemotherapy while Eliyas was in the nursery and Naomi at work. They tell the story of the magical adventures of a lion and a dinosaur and explain the concept of disease in a parent.
Naomi said, “We were in the waiting room for one of his appointments when Aria told me that he had started writing a book for Eliyas and that he was going to read it to him to explain that parents get bad.”
She continued, “Aria knew that one day we would have to explain Eliya’s cancer and it would make it a lot easier.
“I thought it was a great idea and I encouraged him to do it. I knew Eliyas would love it.
“Aria had such a wild imagination – he would describe it as a very childish mind. I think that’s why he did pediatrics because he could relate to children.”
In November 2019, a year after his diagnosis, Aria was finally able to return to work in the pediatric rheumatology ward at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
But after four months, he and his family were stripped of that fragile normalcy when the cancer returned in March 2020 – days before the first lockdown began.
Naomi said, “He finally felt himself back when he got the message after a routine check-up. It was so cruel. “
She continued, “After a diagnosis of cancer, you always have in the back of your mind” What if it comes back? “. But Aria was such a positive soul and was determined not to even consider that possibility.
“He talked about when he wanted to become a consultant and how many books he wanted to write. But it wasn’t intended. “
In stark contrast to his previous surgery when he was surrounded by his family, Naomi had to drop Aria off at the hospital’s doorstep for his second surgery on March 29 to remove the tumor – which she described as “incredibly severe”.
Aria recovered much better from the surgery this time, so he could continue to protect Eliyas from the harsh realities of cancer.
But the cancer returned and he was booked for another operation on July 31, just five days after Eliyas’ third birthday.
Oddly enough, Aria’s recovery times from the operations became shorter and shorter, insofar as he was back home the day after his third operation.
But Naomi said, “Since Eliyas was only 16 months old when we received Aria’s cancer diagnosis, we had managed to protect him from what was going on for quite a long time.
“But on the second and third operations we started talking about how dad was bad because he saw him vomit and sleep during the day when he normally wouldn’t.
“He was showing quite a bit of concern, but at that age his understanding of illness was pretty limited – he thought you could just have a spoonful of medicine and you would be fine.”
After reaching out to “thousands of publishers”, Aria’s determination was rewarded when The Endless Bookcase agreed to publish Eddie and the Magic Healing Stone, which came out in September.
And when Aria sat together on the sofa in the living room and Eliyas cuddled on his lap, he finally achieved his goal.
Naomi recalled, “It was very emotional when he saw him read the book to our son.”
She added, “Eliyas absolutely loved it, and while he didn’t say many words at the time, he loved yelling along with the characters yelling.
“His nursery brought all the characters to life and acted out the book, and he’s so proud to tell everyone there that his father wrote it. You have read it there to this day. “
In early December, the family received devastating news that the cancer had returned and spread down his spine. He was given a tumor-specific drug to slow the cancer’s growth, but was not offered any further surgery.
Naomi said, “He had previously talked about going back to work in January.”
Aria was able to stay home and his parents and brother were self-isolated for two weeks before seeing him on December 25th.
Naomi said, “Aria told me he thought it was his last Christmas, but we were just trying to have a normal Christmas as possible and it was a really nice day.”
She added, “He loved watching Eliyas unpack his presents.”
After that, Aria’s health quickly deteriorated and he died at home on February 8, 2021 at the age of 30.
Since his death, Naomi has said that reading the books for Eliyas has been of great support to help him understand what happened.
She has been busy organizing the adult publication of Aria’s memoir Broken Brain: Brutally Honest, Brutally Me, which she hopes will give strength to others affected by cancer and can be used as a guide for doctors, to help them understand what it is like to be an NHS patient.
During the first ban, Aria also surprised Naomi by telling her that he had written another children’s book for Eliyas – Eddie and the Last Dodo – about the importance of family and self-confidence know that your family will always be there for you, no matter what, ‘explained Naomi.
Eliyas doesn’t yet know the book exists and it will be one final surprise from his father when it comes out soon. And this time, Naomi will be the one reading the story to him.
Naomi said, “After losing my husband, this positive focus on Aria’s books has helped me move on. When I know I’ll get Aria’s words out there, I’m happy.”
To purchase any of Aria’s books, visit Amazon or theendlessbookcase.com.
The proceeds from all of Aria’s children’s books will go to four organizations that have supported him and his family – Brain tumor research, the Royal Medical Foundation, the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, and the Society for Assistance of Medical Families.
Naomi, Aria and Eliyas will also be on the faces of Brain Tumor Research’s Wear a Hat Day on March 26th to raise funds for important research.
She concluded, “There’s nothing else I can do for Aria now, but we can raise awareness and help future generations.”