Eight-month-old Pakistan boy becomes youngest bone marrow donor in India

After being diagnosed with a rare disease wherein abnormal cells eat away normal cells, Zeenia’s parents came to Bangalore’s Narayan Health City in search for an advanced bone marrow transplant facility

Eight-month-old Pakistan boy has become one of the youngest bone marrow donors in India after he donated stem cells to save his two-year-old sister, who underwent a surgery at Narayana Health City in Bangalore.

At the age of 11 months, Zeenia was diagnosed of a rare disease called Hemaphagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), where bone marrow produces abnormal cells which eat away normal marrow cells. It resulted in high fever, low blood counts and liver as well as spleen enlargement. According to doctors, the disease can also be fatal and only cure is a bone marrow transplant.

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Zia Ulla holding his daughter Zeenia (BMT patient) along with Dr Sunil Bhat at Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center of Narayana Health City

In addition, Zeenia was diagnosed with partial albinism since birth as well.

Search for an advanced bone marrow transplant facility got her parents to Narayana Health City in Bangalore. Upon admission, recurring infection, coupled with travel, had affected Zeenia’s health adversely.

Once she was stable, doctors began the process for bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, her brother, Rayan, completely matched her Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA).

However, Rayan was just eight-months-old and taking marrow from the infant was a challenge. Dr Sunil Bhat, senior consultant and head of paediatric haematology, oncology and bone marrow transplant at Narayana Health City, said, “The case was very challenging from donor’s perspective as he was just eight-months-old. Typically, their bones are soft and supple. Further, extracting the stipulated dosage could also be challenging. However, by using small marrow extraction needles and with assistance of our able team of anaesthetists and other team members, we successfully extracted enough marrow, which cured Zeenia. Rayan has not only saved his sister, but he has also received the unique distinction of being youngest marrow donor in India.”

Bhat added that once the match was identified, parents were counselled on donor procedure. “As he is just few months old, to collect adequate dosage, he was required to undergo a donation process twice at a gap of only few weeks. He was very cooperative throughout the procedure,” he said.

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(Standing Left to Right) Dr Sharat Damodar, Dr Shobha and Dr Sunil Bhat with parents (seated) holding Zeenia and Rayan

Zeenia was operated in October this year and spent around five weeks in hospital. Once discharged from hospital, family rented a place near the hospital for her follow-ups. The family is set to leave for Pakistan on Tuesday.

Sharing their joy, Zia Ulla, Zeenia’s father, said, “Back home diseases like HLH are mired with misconceptions. There is a perception that it is not curable. In fact, we had given up hope. Thankfully, we happened to hear about bone marrow transplant unit at Narayana Health City. We are grateful to Dr Bhat and his team for curing my daughter from this dreadful disease.”

Zia Ulla added that he plans to start an online page and share his daughter’s story to raise awareness on the disease and bone marrow donation.

“The page will also act as a platform to create awareness about the illness and the possible treatments,” he said.