Vihaan is a bright and active 4-year-old boy. He is a thalassemia survivor. And just over a year ago, he desperately needed a bone marrow transplant.
Anuroop, is a young man from Kerala. He doesn’t know Vihaan’s family. He just felt that donating bone marrow for someone in need was the right thing to do after he got a call from Datri, a non-profit agency coordinating such donations.
Anuroop told NDTV, “Actually, it was a matter of choice. I got a call from Datri about one year ago and they discussed with me this matter. They said, ‘A 4 year old child, he is suffering from Thalassemia. Maybe only you can save him.’ But at that point, I was not sure that I would do it. But later, with the support of my family and people from Datri, I decided to do it.”
Anuroop and Vihaan came face to face – on camera – for the first time ever on NDTV. Anuroop was clearly emotional as he saw images of an active Vihaan, flanked by his parents, grinning and waving at the screen. Bhavana, Vihaan’s mother was emotional too as she set eyes for the first time on Anuroop, who has given the family life and hope.
She told NDTV, “He is the answer to all our prayers. When Vihaan was diagnosed when he was 6 months old, we didn’t know how Vihaan is going to be. We didn’t know what to do. And then we went to Dr Sunil Bhatt and we registered with Datri. They told us that the procedure of finding a match is very difficult. And then we found a donor so we just couldn’t believe that we were blessed to find a donor. Those were anxious days. But yeah, glad now.”
Asked how her son was doing, Bhavana said, “Young Vihaan is doing great, thanks to Dr Sunil, thanks to Anuroop and thanks to God’s grace. Vihaan is doing well.”
Looking at the screen in front of her which showed, Anuroop, Dr Bhatta and Gayathri Shenoy of Datri, she told her son ‘”Just say hi, Vihaan!” He did, with a cheery wave.
Anuroop was moved by the response. He said, “I’m super excited – I waited for too long. I waited for one year. From that day of donation, the whole family, he was always in my prayers. I’m super excited now. That’s all.”
Finding a matching donor in a case like this is a very difficult task. Vihaan’s doctor, Dr Sunil Bhatt, is HoD, Paediatric Haematology, Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplantation at the Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre in Bengaluru. And this professional medical man admitted to the deep emotions he feels at such times when a donor meets a recipient. “It gives me goosebumps,” he told NDTV.
“You do so many times, again and again, but every time when an unrelated donor meets a patient – it is always an emotional moment for all of us,” he said.
“Vihaan was diagnosed with a disease called Thalassemia at six months of age. What happens in this disease is that they don’t make their own blood. So they have to be given blood transfusions from outside every few weeks to sustain life and that is life-long. But what blood does is it brings its own complications along with it and many of those and unfortunately most of these children do not live more than second or third decade of life. So the only cure for this is bone marrow transplantation and as we all know for Bone Marrow Transplantation we need someone to donate for them. There has to be a healthy donor who can donate,” he said.
To find a matching donor is far from easy. Dr Bhatt said, “Sometimes you’ll find that in the families – the chances of that being 25-30 per cent. But 70 per cent of the patients who require transplants will not have anyone in their families to donate for them. So here comes the role of unrelated donor transplantations that means someone else in the same country, in the world who matches the patient. And the chances of that being one in 20,000 to one in a million. So it depends on what ethnic background you’re from – South Indian is going to match South Indian, North Indian going to match North Indian – chances will be higher in your own ethnic community. And hence the registries play a huge role because they enrol these unrelated healthy donors, put them on their database and when patients like Vihaan require such transplantation we approach these registries and ask them if there is any donor in the registry who is matching our patient. If there is one, that person is requested to donate and they donate stem cells to save someone’s life.”
Datri helped coordinate this life saving procedure with its all-important database. Gayathri Shenoy, Head-Patient Relations of Datri told NDTV, “I represent Datri which is India’s largest blood stem cell registry. We are 10 years old and we have about 4.4 lakh registered donors and 712 donations of that. But as you can imagine that is a very small number compared to the population of our country because there are so many patients who have blood cancer who are waiting for their Anuroop to show up.”
Asked if it had been physically difficult to donate bone marrow, Anuroop said, “Physically not that hard – like I need some rest but it is not that hard. Anyone can do it anytime if they find a match. I didn’t find it very difficult and all. I heard some cases like people will be hesitant to do something like this – but I didn’t find anything that should people hesitate. It is an easy process and you would be given a general anaesthesia. You won’t be knowing anything.”
Bhavana said, “We just wanted to say that everyday in our prayers all of these people have been there. We didn’t know the donor – so he was just addressed as the Superhero Donor, because it was very difficult to make Vihaan understand. Dr. Sunil, Datri – I don’t know what we would have done if it was not for Datri. So just feeling blessed.”