Cover Story: Sister saves baby brother with gift of life
By ALISON BELLAMY
“We need more Asian donors to help save lives . It could so easily have been a different story”
What is involved in being a stem cell donor?
Dawud’s parents are now encouraging more South Asian people to join the Anthony Nolan register to help other children like their son.
Around 90 per cent of donors now donate through a simple outpatient procedure which is similar to giving blood, it just takes a bit longer. These donors have a needle in each arm for a few hours while blood is taken out of one arm, processed through a machine which removes the stem cells, and returned to the other arm.
The other 10 per cent donate through the older method which is called bone marrow harvest. This involves a short operation under general anaesthetic during which bone marrow is removed from a bone in the pelvis with a needle. This is the way in which Dawud’s sister donated as she was too young to donate through the more common method.
The charity is seeking people aged 16-30 to join the register and to help save lives. For more information or to sign up online visit www.anthonynolan.org.
Baby Dawud Raza was saved by a stem cell transplant from his three-year-old sister, after tests found she was a perfect match.
But things could have been different if he didn’t match his sister and subsequently, a donor had not been found, as there is a shortage of healthy South Asian people coming forward to sign up to become stem cell donors.
Now mum Zahra Hussain, 29, is calling for more people from ethnic minority backgrounds to join the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan’s register of donors, as there is a shortage of South Asian people on the list – putting lives at risk.
The pharmacist’s 14 month old son was saved by a stem cell transplant, after he was diagnosed with a very rare illness which causes immunodeficiency, when he was just five months old.
Zahra, who is of Pakistani origin and lives in Leeds with her husband Dr Kashif Raza, a GP, said: “Without the transplant Dawud wouldn’t have survived, but he is now a happy, smiley baby. My daughter, Khadijah, is only three, but she saved his life.
“He was very lucky to have found a match in his sister as otherwise he would have had to rely on a register which is short of South Asian donors – his fate would have been in a stranger’s hands and he might not be here now.
“There was only a 25 per cent chance that Khadijah would be a match and we were warned that finding a match on the register would be difficult because Asian people are underrepresented. It could so easily have been a very different story.”
Zahra would otherwise have been dependent upon Anthony Nolan finding him an unrelated donor. Only around a third of patients find a match in their own family.
“Khadijah is just three but she has already saved a life, and yet there are so many adults who are fearful of the process of donating their stem cells, and awareness is especially poor in our community.
People need to know that donating is very easy and won’t cause them any harm. If more people understood how important it is, more people would sign up. We met other children who were looking for unrelated donors and we saw how difficult it can be. People from every community should sign up.” Mum, Zahra
They rushed him to hospital where he was treated for meningitis. But it soon became clear that meningitis was not the cause of Dawud’s illness and for 10 days doctors were unable to establish the cause, as he lay dangerously ill.
Eventually a bone marrow biopsy revealed that he had a very rare genetic condition called HLH (haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis), an illness in which the body’s immune cells don’t work properly. It causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue and is fatal without treatment.
Dawud was immediately started on chemotherapy to manage the condition and his parents were told he would need a stem cell transplant to survive.
They were also warned that it could be difficult to find a matching stem cell donor for him because of his South Asian heritage.
Doctors began by testing his sister, Khadijah, even though there was only a 25 per cent chance that she would be a suitable match.
Fortunately, it was a perfect match and the transplant went ahead after she donated her bone marrow to her brother.
Zahra said: “We were very lucky it was a match. We were extremely thankful. It was a real relief when we learned that she was able to be Dawud’s donor – we were over the moon.”
Thanks to his sister, Dawud is now a happy, healthy baby again. He still has to be fed through a tube but he is recovering rapidly and it is hoped that the transplant will have cured his HLH.
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