Ankit Vaghasia, a 27-year-old youth living in Surat, is today a successful businessman in Surat. He is living a healthy life today, but ten years ago, an unexpected calamity struck his life.
At that time his life was suddenly threatened. In the year 2013, a life-and-death test event happened that Ankit and his family never imagined.
What was the incident and who rescued them from it and how?
Ankit Vaghasia was only 17 years old and studying in 12th standard at that time. One day when Ankit went to discuss something with his friends, he suddenly collapsed there.
Ankit’s family and friends immediately rushed Ankit to a hospital in Surat. Seeing his report, Surat’s pediatric oncologist Dr. Nirav Buch, referred to Apollo Hospital, Chennai. Not only that, Dr. Contacted Revathi Raj (Senior Consultant – Pediatric Haematology) and sent all Ankit’s reports to her.
Dr. Revathi diagnosed Ankit with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow (a type of blood cancer).
This type of cancer tends to spread very quickly if not treated promptly. AML is also called acute myelogenous leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
Blood stem cells from family members did not match
Ankit was admitted to a hospital in Chennai. As the condition did not improve despite chemotherapy, a doctor at a Chennai hospital advised a blood stem cell transplant to save his life.
Blood stem cells of Ankit’s family members were checked for match or not. Generally, there is only a 30 percent chance of finding a blood stem cell match from the patient’s family. So in such cases the patient’s life can be saved only if unrelated donors are willing to donate blood stem cells. Same thing happened in Ankit’s case. Despite having a large family including his parents, uncle, three sisters, none of them had a blood stem cell match.
A blood stem cell is an immature cell that can develop into all types of blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Hematopoietic stem cells are found in the blood near the surface of the body (peripheral) and in the bone marrow (bone marrow).
A 22-year-old girl, Jinal, donated blood stem cells to Ankit
The blood stem cells of a 22-year-old woman, unknown to Ankit, were matched and she donated her blood stem cells at Apollo Hospital, Ahmedabad on 9 August 2013, giving Ankit a new life.
It is no exaggeration to say that the girl’s decision was an indomitable adventure, because she was the first blood stem cell donor in Gujarat as a non-relative donor. The name of the girl who turned 32 today is Jinal Himanshubhai Patel.
Jinal has achieved the honor and success of Gujarat’s first peripheral unrelated blood stem cell donor.
“Many people did not know then that blood stem cell donation does not harm the health of the donor. I was informed that my cells were a match for a person in need through the Chennai-based donor registry ‘Datri’,” says Jinal.
“At that time I was not given the identity of that patient as per ‘Datri’ rule. So I decided to donate my blood stem cells only to save the life of a stranger. I donated blood stem cells and ‘Datri’ sent him to Apollo Hospital in Chennai. delivered. A year later I was introduced to Ankit and both our families met each other.”
“Young age, single build and weight only 39 kg”
It was not easy for Jinal to take such a big decision in life, because Jinal was only 22 years old at that time and at that time he was studying Company Secretary (CS) after completing his M.Com.
Jinal says, “As soon as my blood stem cells were matched, I was ready to donate them. But naturally, parents are worried about their daughter. For one thing, I was young, a singleton, and I weighed only 39 kg at that time. My parents were afraid that I might not have any side effects in future.”
At that time Jinal was also engaged. So Jinal’s future husband Himanshu and in-laws also had to be informed about this matter.
Jinal says, “Himanshu and my in-laws supported me fully. They were very happy with the decision I had taken to save a life and I was relieved that everyone agreed on it.”
“How exciting it is to be instrumental in saving someone’s life”
With tears of joy in her eyes, Jinal continues, “It’s so exciting that we can be instrumental in saving someone’s life like this. I can’t put into words how happy I am to be instrumental in saving Ankit’s life.”
“I feel like my life has come full circle. I’m still proud and happy that I didn’t go back on that decision 10 years ago.”
Ankit Vaghasia, a patient who received blood stem cells, says, “I consider Jinalbehan, who gave me life, as my elder sister. I have three sisters and Jinaldidi is now my fourth sister. The new life I have got is because of Jinaldidi.” So I will forever be grateful to him.”
The step of giving a cheek cell sample was instrumental in saving lives
An awareness-campaign was launched in the year 2012-13 by the famous Ahmedabad-based company ‘Nirma’ to encourage people to take the initiative to donate blood stem cells to save the lives of patients suffering from diseases like blood cancer and thalassemia.
Under the campaign, specifically, people in more than 75 villages of North Gujarat and South Gujarat as well as some cities and small towns were mobilized, explained, and tested for HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) on the spot.
In this test, a sample of cells is collected from the inside of the cheek using a sterile swab. At one such event held in Patan, North Gujarat, Jinalbehan also gave her HLA sample and fortunately, her move proved to be a life-saving step for Ankit.
“Relatively low awareness of blood stem cell donation in India”.
Answering the question how the idea of starting the campaign came, Vatsal Vaishnav of the ‘Nirama’ Group says, “Dr. Nathal Jerme Blood Stem Cell in a lecture series held for the students of the ‘Institute of Pharmacy’ at the ‘Nirma University’ in the year 2012-13. And gave a lecture about the method of obtaining it. After hearing that, we decided to take the idea of blood stem cell donation to the masses. And many people attended our programs and gave the HLA test, making the campaign a success.”
Renowned consultant in hematology and hemato-oncology, Apollo Hospital, Ahmedabad, Dr. Chirag A. “Genel has become a beacon for most of the blood stem cell donors after Genel in Gujarat, because at that time we were preparing more than 100 other donors for donation by giving Genel’s example,” says Shah.
At Genal’s blood stem cell donation, the senior consultant Dr. Paresh Vyasa says, “Jinalbehan was very enthusiastic and full of confidence. In Genelebehn’s blood stem cell donation process, the required stem cells were obtained through a self-separated (aseresis) machine (adopting the peripheral blood stem cell method).”
How are stem cells collected and transplanted?
Years ago when there were no self-separated (ascersis) machines, the donor had to be rendered unconscious by anesthesia, bone marrow (BMT) was extracted from the bone marrow and then purified. That was the standard method then.
However, now a modern self-separated (aseresis) machine is available so the stem cells are isolated from the peripheral blood stem cell method (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant – PBSCT).
In that process, blood from one arm comes into a disposable kit placed in a self-separated machine. Blood stem cells are then separated from them as needed, stored, and the remaining blood is transfused back into the patient’s body through the patient’s other arm. This whole process takes 3-4 hours.
These stem cells are then transplanted into the patient’s body. Generally, 3 million to 6 million stem cells per kilogram are obtained from a donor’s body and given to the patient, depending on the patient’s weight.
About 10 to 15 thousand thalassemia major babies are born every year in India
The number of children with thalassemia major in India (about one to one and a half lakh), is the highest in the whole world and about 10 to 15 thousand thalassemia major children are born in India every year.
Also, there is a 1 in 10,000 unrelated person or 1 in 2 million chance of finding a genetically atypical blood stem cell donor.
With a blood stem cell transplant from a genetically matched donor, patients suffering from blood-disorders like leukemia, lymphoma, thalassemia can be treated.
Chennai-based donor registry ‘Datri’ is playing an important role in creating awareness and coordinating the donation process.
A total of 5,26,385 unrelated donors are registered in India by Datri. Of these, 39,437 donors (7.5 percent of the donors registered in India in Datri) are registered in Gujarat.
This means that all these people are willing to donate their blood stem cells when needed. However, against 4 crore registered donors worldwide, the number of registered donors in India is less, so we still need to create more awareness about blood stem cell donation there.
Sumati Mishra, head of medical affairs at ‘Datri’ says, “Awareness about stem cell donation in India is very low. Only awareness can help motivate people to donate their blood stem cells and help build a strong registry.”