This World Cancer Day, pledge to save someone’s life by registering as a stem cell donor. Ledhi Cafe at Ernakulam is conducting an awareness event in association with Datri, a non-profit organisation on the 4th of February. “It started when my brother told me about his friend’s wife who has been suffering from Leukaemia from the age of 12,” says Satish Menon, founder of Ledhi. Rajee Nedunchezhian, 33, living in London urgently needs a stem cell donor. “Globally, India ranks very low in stem cell donors- only two lack fifty thousand donors as compared to global numbers of 30 lakhs which is very low considering our population,” says Aby Sam John donor drive co-ordinator, Datri a non-profit Stem Cell registry. “Rajee is just one such case. We could like to create awareness for the benefit of many such individuals,” explains Satish.
So, how exactly does one become a donor? “All you need to do is, take a swab test, register and fill out a form,” Aby explains. Just how blood is matched by blood group or blood type, stem cell is matched by antigens. The Stem cells are matched using HLA or human leukocyte antigen. The chance of finding matching HLA within family is as much as 25%. And the chances of finding a match outside are one in ten thousand. So it becomes very important that more and more people become donors.
Dr. Neeraj Sidharthan of Department of Medical Oncology & Haematology, AIMS Kochi says, “There is a lack of awareness and people need to understand that the process is largely safe.” He also feels that people may be hesitant to be donors because they are apprehensive. “A donor undergoes an overall health check up to rule out major ailments like HIV, Hepatitis etc. They are also asked to undergo an ECG and echo cardiogram to avoid any complications, says Aby. One can register to become a donor anywhere between the ages of 18 to 50. And a matching donor may donate till the age of 60.
Apart from the mandatory health check-ups, a donor can go about their routines as usual, Aby tells us. The three main sources of stem cells are blood, bone marrow and cord blood (umbilical cord which can be harvested). Bone marrow donations are requested only in extreme cases. “In most cases, stem cell donation via blood is sufficient. The donor is injected with a stimulating factor that makes the body produce more stem cells that gets diverted to the bloodstream. This is done over a period of four days. And on the fifth day, the donor’s stem cells are taken via a blood donation and are separated using an aphaeresis machine,” Aby tells us. And for those wondering out aloud, no, the blood group needn’t be same for a stem cell match.
“People are usually scared and aren’t aware that it is as simple a process as blood donation. Stem cell donations can help cure blood cancer, thalassemia and such related ailments,” he adds. Coming back to Rajee, “I feel it is amazing how Rajee has retained a positive outlook throughout her ailment. She lives life so normally, filled with positivity, watching Bollywood movies and going for dance classes without a care in the world. She is a genius coder and a brilliant and humble human being. And her positivity is what gets all of us through it with her,” says Suraj Menon, Rajee’s friend.
So let’s step out to help many more such individuals who may be in need on the 4th. The event takes place between 3-5 pm at Ledhi Cafe at South Janatha Road, Palarivattom. Datri is also conducting an awareness drive at Shangumugham beach, Trivandrum on 5th February.