Sunshine story: Cured leukaemia patient meets his stem cell donor

An IT engineer from Pune came face-to-face with the Kochi man who gave him a new lease of life by donating blood stem cells, which cured him of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

It was an emotional moment when Mayur Bargaje, a 28-year-old IT engineer from Pune, first met Aby Sam John (25) from Kochi. Bargaje, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia, was saved after John donated blood stem cells for a transplant. According to doctors, this is the first time a donor and a recipient of blood stem cells are meeting.

Mayur Bargaje

Bargaje was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which was detected in 2010. After being treated for two years, the disease relapsed. This left a blood stem cell transplant as the only hope for his survival and his family started the search for a donor in 2012. Normally, siblings of the patient donate the stem cells. But Bargaje has none, and he had to wait till 2013 to find a match.

DATRI, an NGO working towards saving those suffering from life-threatening diseases, stepped in to provide the appropriate stem cells. John, who was a volunteer at DATRI, was the donor. Haemato-oncologist Dr Sameer Melinkeri, who performed the transplant, said, “The advances in treatment of blood-related disorders in India have rendered the process of blood stem cell donation, through peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) donation, extremely safe for donors. It has given a new lease of life to patients in the country.”

Bargaje’s family, relatives and friends have pitched in to help for his treatment, which ran up a bill of approximately R15 lakh after the relapse. He was on the verge of tears when he saw John. “It is amazing for me to come face-to-face with you for the first time; you are the real hero of my life. I would not have been here had it not been for you, and the untiring efforts of Dr Sameer,” the engineer said, looking at John.

Dr Sameer Melinkeri, haemato-oncologist
Dr Sameer Melinkeri

The operation was performed one-and-a-half years back at the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune, but requires the patient to be observed for a period to see if the body has accepted the transplant. On Wednesday, Dr Melinkeri announced that the transplant was a success.

“Mayur has recovered fully; he is fine now. The blood stem cells were collected from the donor in Kochi and brought to Pune by air,” the doctor explained. He then encouraged people to donate their blood stem cells, telling them to set aside any misconceptions they may have about it.

“Any healthy person can do it and the blood stem cells grow easily again. It is as easy as blood donation nowadays and DATRI is the first NGO in India to have registered official blood stem cell donors. They have almost 70,000 donors, but this number is still very small,” Dr Melinkeri added.

John’s own tryst with a personal tragedy awoke him to the urgent need for blood stem cells. His father died due to a sudden heart attack, and when he was in the hospital he realised how many people were awaiting blood stem cell transplants. Getting a match is very difficult; one in 10,000 people’s blood stem cell matches, John said, urging everyone to donate to improve the odds.

“Donating stem cells doesn’t affect a donor’s health, a fact unknown to many. It is the best feeling in the world to save a life and be responsible to our community,” John told mid-day.

NGO speak

Raghu Rajagopal, cofounder and CEO of DATRI, said “There are more than 20 million registered donors in the world. However, in India, because of low awareness levels, donors are not coming forward. As a result, there are very few registered donors. We
have 70,000 voluntary donors from diverse ethnic backgrounds.  and we have successfully facilitated 79 transplants. DATRI has tied up with 10 hospitals and a number of transplant centres across the country.”

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