Inspired by his father to donate blood regularly, this IT professional from Bengaluru did not think twice about donating blood stem cells and his unselfish gesture has helped a child with a rare blood disorder lead a normal life.
It has been an emotional and fulfilling journey for 39-year-old Vipin Gupta, culminating in his meeting little Samyuktha for the first time after he donated his blood stem cells to her. Till last year, the 10-year-old was battling Thalassemia, a blood disorder that is characterised by production of defective red blood cells and causes severe anaemia in children. Thalassemia affects 10,000 children every year and the only cure for this disease is a blood stem cell transplant.
Vipin still vividly remembers the day when a neighbour knocked on his door at their apartment complex in Bengaluru, more than two years ago.
He informed him about a stem cell donor registration drive that was being conducted by Datri, India’s largest adult unrelated blood stem cell donors’ registry.
“The drive was to help another child suffering from blood cancer. I have been a regular blood donor following in the footsteps of my father, who is a doctor and has selflessly helped people in need by donating his blood. We did not know much about blood stem cell donation but my wife and I were interested and enrolled ourselves as potential donors,” says Vipin, an IT professional working with an automobile company and a father of two beautiful boys.
At that time, Vipin could not donate because he was not a match. But a year ago, when the phone call from Datri came to help Samyuktha who was diagnosed with Thalassemia, he was more than willing. He found out more about blood stem cell donations and the science behind it, determined to ensure that his gesture would be useful.
“Various tests are done to find the extent of match and fortunately, I was a 100% match for Samyuktha. Four days prior to the transplant, I was given injections to boost my blood stem cell count. The blood stem cell donation itself is a simple procedure where blood is drawn from the arm and then the cells are separated. There was hardly any discomfort,” assures Vipin.
Blood stem cell transplant can be the lifeline for patients with blood disorders such as leukaemia, thalassemia, lymphomas, genetic diseases such as Hurler’s syndrome and so on. For patients suffering from a fatal blood disorder, a blood stem cell transplant is their only hope of survival. The probability of finding a matched blood stem cell donor is one in 10,000 to one in two million.
The day of donation happened to be the one on which Raksha Bandhan was being celebrated and Vipin took his six years old son along to inculcate in him the spirit of service.
Donors like Vipin who give patients the gift of life are a rare breed in a country where registration is just a small step. When the time comes to donate, going the whole hog is the toughest hurdle.
“Getting a donor to register is only a small but important step. But getting people to actually come and donate, without backing out at the last minute is the biggest challenge. Lack of awareness and misconceptions about stem cell donation is the main cause. There are 50+ registries across the globe with more than 18 million registered donors, but among these, Indians make up only two percent. That is why we need more Indian donors to come forward, as ethnicity also plays a role in getting a match,” says Raghu Rajagopal, co-founder and CEO of Datri.
Samyuktha’s parents knew that only too well when an international donor backed out after agreeing to make the donation. “It was a difficult time for us. Samyuktha was diagnosed at three months when we had gone to the doctor for a regular vaccination. We were devastated when the doctor said that my little girl had Thalassemia and would need monthly blood transfusions for the rest of her life. After the initial shock, our only mission was to get the best treatment for our child,” says Samyuktha’s mother Vijayalakshmi.
The little girl braved it all – painful needle pricks, the monthly blood transfusions, each of which lasted for four hours, all with a smile on her face. Through all this, she rarely missed school and even won prizes for full attendance.
As per the doctors’ advice, they registered with registries worldwide and finally found the perfect match in Vipin through Datri. The organisation has more than 1,55,000 registered voluntary donors and has facilitated 198 blood stem cell donations in India and abroad.
Samyuktha’s family calls him their angel who gave her the gift of life. In a painting that she gave Vipin after her successful transplant, the 10-year-old depicts a parrot in a cage with its door open and says that now she is free from the burden of disease thanks to her ‘donor uncle’.
According to registry protocol, donor and recipients are not allowed to meet for a year and Samyuktha finally met her benefactor on Thursday (Sept 29). She touched his feet and he hugged her and grew emotional.
“This is one thing in my life that I will be proud of,” says Vipin. He hasn’t stopped at that – every colleague and relative he meets, he makes it a point to raise awareness about blood stem cell donation and hopes that more people would register as potential donors.
Know more about Datri here.