International Women's day: Saving lives, one stem cell donation at a time

Mar 08, 2015, 07:49 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

On International Women’s Day we meet three women who chose the selfless act of stem cell donation

In a country where organ and cell donation rates are abysmal, here are three women who have chosen to save precious lives, and unconditionally so.

Womens day
(From left to right) Sherin Cherian, Meenakshi V and Sneha Shah

Twenty-five-year-old Sherin Cherian, Sneha Shah, 27 and Meenakshi V, 55, are real-life heroines — they donate their blood stem cells to patients in need and have made a difference to the quality of the patients’ lives without ever having met them in person.

Cherian, a nurse at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital & Medical Research Centre, helped save the live of three-year-old Anvi Pednekar, who suffered from myelofibrosis (a disorder of the bone marrow) (mid-day wrote a series of reports about Anvi and invited donations).

‘I was moved by her plight’
In 2013, Cherian attended a seminar on cell donation at a local church which was organised by DATRI to save a 24-year-old woman patient diagnosed with leukemia in Chennai.

“I was moved by her plight and volunteered. As per the procedure, my buccal swab sample was taken and sent to a laboratory in the US for Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) testing. I was told only if my stem cell matched with that of the patient or any other patient in future, I would be contacted. A few months later, I was told that my stem cell matched with the patient and was advised to undergo few more tests before the donation,” remembers Cherian.

She adds that her parents were very supportive of her decision and now, she is keen to meet the recipient patient, “According the rules of the donation, I can meet the patient only after a year. I can’t wait,” she smiles.

Ruchita Pednekar, Anvi’s 34-year-old mother said the lack of donors drives parents like her to depend on foreign donors, which escalates the cost of the treatment. “We have a large population — if only more donors came forward. Even if one fourth of our people donate stem cells, every patient’s need will be met,” she said. .

‘Don’t back out’
Shah, a Bandra-based business analyst, participated in a stem cell donation awareness programme organised at work last year. “I was moved when I learnt about a nine-year-old schoolgirl from Delhi needing a stem cell transplant to treat thalassemia major. I immediately gave my buccal sample and it matched,” she said.

Shah says the procedure has no complications, before or after the donation, and appealed to people to come forward. “Think twice before registering as a donor as you are giving ray of hope to a family and the recipient is fighting for life. There were instances where people would allow the swab to be tested and when they matched, they backed out.”

Meenakshi works with the Accountant General Office, and is a resident of Nagpur. In 2008, she and her daughter Niranjani V, a medical student, submitted their swabs and in September 2012, Meenakshi donated her stem cells to a UK national without even knowing the recipient.

Meenakshi has managed to convince some relatives to be donors and has even started campaigning locally. “I cannot provide monetary assistance to anyone, but this is the least I can do to save someone’s life,” she said. Datri, a non-profit organisation in Chennai collects samples to fight leukemia, lymphoma, chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), aplastic anaemia.

Co-founder CEO of Datri, Raghu Rajagopal said, “With very few registered donors available in India, the possibility of finding a match for an Indian anywhere in the world is very bleak - perhaps one in 10,000 to 2 million samples matches. Today, we have around 76,000 registered donors with us, of which nearly 25,000 donors are women across the country between 18-55 years of age.”

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