By ALISON BELLAMY
A MOTHER is appealing for more Asian people to come forward as potential stem cell donors, after her baby’s life was saved by a stem cell transplant from his three-year-old sister.
Zahra Hussain, 29, is calling for more people from ethnic minority backgrounds to join the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan’s register of people willing to be stem cell donors, as there is a shortage of South Asian donors.
The pharmacist’s one-year-old son, Dawud Raza, was saved by a stem cell transplant after he was diagnosed with a very rare illness that causes immunodeficiency, when he was just five months old.
Zahra, who is of Pakistani origin and lives in Leeds with her GP husband Dr Kashif Raza, 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 have had such a good outcome.
“There was only a 25 per cent chance that Khadijah would be a match and we were warned that finding a match for Dawud on the register would be difficult because Asian people are underrepresented. It could so easily have been a very different story.”
Zahra knows that Dawud was very lucky to have a sister who was a perfect match for him as he would otherwise have been dependent upon Anthony Nolan finding him an unrelated donor, which is much harder for people from an Asian or other ethnic minority background. Only around a third of patients find a match in their own family.
Dawud was a healthy baby when he was born in October last year but when he was just a few months old he developed a severe rash and his parents noticed that he had gone off his food and become irritable and unwell.
His mother and father, who works as a GP in Wakefield, were concerned that he might have meningitis so rushed him to hospital where he was treated for the illness.
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, Khadijah was found to be a perfect match for Dawud and the transplant went ahead in June after she donated her bone marrow to Dawud.
Zahra said: “We were very lucky Khadijah was a match. We were extremely thankful, particularly as we knew his chances of finding an unrelated match were low.
“It was a real relief when we learned that she was able to be Dawud’s donor – we were over the moon.”
His parents are now encouraging more South Asian people to join the Anthony Nolan register to help other children like their son.
For more information, visit www.anthonynolan.org.
The charity is seeking people aged 16-30 to join the register and to help save lives.
Read more about this in the next edition of Asian Sunday.