Female unrelated bone marrow donor saves infant's life

Female unrelated bone marrow donor saves infant's life

Resisting family pressure, a Tamil Nadu woman, whose daughter is suffering from thalassemia major, a serious blood disorder, has donated her bone marrow to a three-month-old infant afflicted with a critical autoimmune disease, becoming the first female unrelated bone marrow donor in the country, doctors said.

The bone marrow harvested from the 26-year-old Masilamani, hailing from Mudhalipalayam village near Coimbatore, was transplanted on the infant hailing from the national capital in January this year.

Though the child is still in hospital, doctors are confident he would survive since a graft failure or rejection of the bone marrow by the body would have caused his death within a couple of days.

Bone marrow harvesting involves a procedure during which stem cells are collected with a needle placed into the soft centre of the bone.

"I believe I'm blessed. I managed to break away from the misconceptions of our society to save a child. I feel like I am the mother of the child. I would say it is my child too as now I have given him a second chance to live. I pray to the almighty that he recovers fast and should never suffer again. He must be healthy," Masilamani told PTI.

Masilamani's daughter is a patient of thalassemia major, a serious disorder which causes a frequent dip in production of haemoglobin, the iron-containing protein in the red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body, requiring frequent blood transfusions.

Blood transfusions could not have helped the boy survive, doctors said.

Masilamani got married to R Kaviarasan, a fabricator, when she was 20.

"Within a year, my daughter was born and a few months later she was diagnosed with thalassemia major. We both (husband and wife) have our swabs to identify human leukocyte antigen (HLA) to check if we could be of match to our daughter at DATRI - the blood stem cells donor registry. There I found a match and wanted to become a donor for a baby boy."

Excited but confused, Masilamani shared the piece of information with her husband who concurred with her view that it was a great opportunity to help another family that was in distress.

But taking a final decision was not easy.

"My mother-in-law and sister-in-law resisted saying if something went wrong, who will take care of your children?

"The in-laws were all the more worried as I have a daughter with a chronic illness. Even my relatives and neighbours advised me not to go ahead with the donation as there could be side effects in the future, if not immediately. I was confused," she said.

Masilamani, who also has a son, said she then sought advice from experts and they told her the procedure did not entail any side effects.

"I could finally convince my family and take a decision to donate bone marrow to save a life," she said.

Masilamani thanked her husband profusely for supporting her when it mattered most.

"There are men who would leave their partners if the child is found to be having a disorder that could be fatal. But Kaviarasan has been a responsible father and a great partner," she said, pride showing through her voice.

She now hopes more women will come forward to donate their bone marrow to help people in distress.

"The greatest gift is the gift of life. After undergoing the procedure, I can vouch for it that it is very simple and has no side effects. Many people discouraged me saying you may not walk properly, you may get bedridden and all that stuff," she said.

When asked if she would donate bone marrow again if such an opportunity presented itself, Masilamani responded with a prompt and emphatic "yes".

According to official data, there are 1,36,244 female donors in the country, including those who donate blood, of whom 34 per cent are registered.

The total number of women who backed out from donations in the last two years between January 2017 and February 2019 was 129, according to data of DATRI, the country's largest blood stem cell registry.

"I feel privileged to have Masilamani as India's first lady bone marrow donor from DATRI. It makes me proud to say that while women are excelling in every field, there are a few who are making extraordinary and phenomenal contributions to humankind such as donating their blood stem cells to save lives.

"In the true sense, it is like giving birth, but not biologically," DATRI founder and CEO Raghu Rajagopal, whose organisation is engaged in finding willing matched donors for patients suffering from serious blood disorders that can prove fatal, said.