“Shia is the best thing to have ever happened to us. We were shattered when she fell sick,” say the parents of the 4-year-old girl.
At the tender age of 9 months, Shia was diagnosed with thalassemia, a blood dyscrasia which results in the body being unable to make enough haemoglobin for use. Haemoglobin is a molecule that helps transport oxygen to all the tissues of the body. An inadequate or deficient amount of haemoglobin would result in the cells of the body being deprived of oxygen.
Doctors told her parents that the only way to save their daughter would be to give her a bone marrow transplant from a donor. This is done by first wiping out one’s immune system and then introducing new bone marrow, which contain stem cells that then help build a new and healthy immune system.
A year after they began their search for a matching donor, the family met Debojyoti Banik, a Bengaluru techie whose bone marrow was a perfect match.
Debojyoti was highly aware of the need to donate stem cells and the impact one can bring by being a donor after seeing his mother’s battle with cancer.
“I had personally seen what a family can go through during the period of medical procedures. Not only the patient but the entire family collapses. This motivated me to register as a donor and that is something others can do as well because nothing is more noble than saving someone’s life” he said to TNM.
While bone marrow transplants are usually invasive procedures, doctors took the girl up for peripheral stem cell transplant, a method through which stem cells from the bone marrow are transplanted without any surgical intervention.
DKMS BMST is a non-profit organisation that functions to build a registry of donors in India.
According to the organisation, every five minutes someone in India is diagnosed with blood cancer or blood disorders. In multiple instances, stem cell transplant becomes the only hope of survival for the patients.
“Most of them tend to believe the myths related to stem cell donation. Due to the lack of matches for implant, people have also lost their dear ones. This is why the public should be encouraged to register, so that they can lend a second chance to someone at stake” said Dr.Latha Jagannathan, Director of DKMS BMST.
There are several registries in the country, which run online initiatives for people to come forward and donate. Potential donors can enroll through the website, following which they will receive a simple swab kit, which they can mail back or ask the organisation to collect.
The individual’s details are noted down in the registry and if someone is found to be a match, they are notified.
“Peripheral stem cell collection is a safe process and the most common method, which might involve short term side effects like body ache, lasting for a day. Moreover, the support and encouragement from a donor’s family is very vital for these procedures to take place,” said Dr.Pooja Prakash Mallya, an Oncologist and Bone Marrow Transplant Specialist from Narayana Health City, Bengaluru.
“With such donations, the contributor not only gives a new leash of life to the patient, but also to the entire family. I really urge the younger generation to learn about this and spread the message across” said Shia’s father, Saifulla Kobir.