Defining Motherhood Differently – Stem Cell Donor
Stem cell donor K Masilamani, the first unrelated female donor in India, is smashing quite a few stereotypesBy Anila Mathew Vivek
In a nation where women rarely get the right to make choices about their bodies and where daughters are considered a burden, K Masilamani has smashed stereotypes with the firm backing of her husband R Kaviarasan. A mother of two, the 26-year-old hails from a small village in Coimbatore that continues to resist modernization. Her elder daughter had been diagnosed with the genetic disorder thalassemia major at six months of age. Since then, the child—now six years old—has had 55 blood transfusions. In an effort to save their child, Masilamani and Kaviarasan had donated their swabs to DATRI, a non-profit blood stem cell donor registry based in Chennai, in 2017. DATRI, which began operations in 2009, has been facilitating donations of stem cells and bone marrow to those suffering from life-threatening illnesses like various types of cancer, thalassemia, etc.
Allogenic stem cell transplant (aSCT) is an effective method of treatment for thalassemia. However, in a twist of fate, though the couple could not donate blood cells to their own daughter, the HLA typing found Masilamani to be a perfect match for another child fighting for life. When contacted by DATRI to donate her bone marrow, she immediately shared the news with her husband. The couple was only too glad to donate her bone marrow, making her the first unrelated female donor in India to donate through Bone Marrow Harvest (BMH). While both husband and wife were willing to help a stranger, they were dissuaded by their family members and other relatives. Pointing out that she had to take care of a daughter suffering from a chronic illness, her in-laws tried to dissuade Masilamani. Since stem cell and bone marrow donation are mired in misconceptions, lose something irretrievable, like in the case of organ donation. In reality, the cells rejuvenate within 4 to 6 weeks after the surgical procedure, in which liquid marrow is extracted using a needle while under anesthesia. “After undergoing the procedure I can surely say it is a very simple procedure and there are no side effects,” says Masilamani. “Many people discouraged me saying you may not walk properly, you will be bedridden, marrow will be taken from the spine, etc. I realized that those were all misconceptions. The spine is not touched at all during the procedure. It was just like an injection and everything is completed in 30 minutes to an hour. I had a slight pain in the hip after the marrow was taken but from the next day I was fine and back to normal.” Explains Dr. Revathi Raj, consultant pediatric hematologist at Apollo Hospital, Chennai: “The bone marrow is harvested under general anesthesia. A needle is inserted into the pelvic bone and the marrow is extracted with a syringe.
Masilamani has done a phenomenal job by coming forward to gift a life by donating her bone marrow despite the pressure from the family. Probably she is the first woman unrelated donor to donate bone marrow and I appreciate her husband for supporting her and DATRI for facilitating this donation successfully. She gave life to her children once and now she has given life to another child.” Due to ignorance and other societal pressures, 129 women backed out from donations in the last two years, says DATRI. Some fear long-term or short-term side effects as well. However, Masilamani is enthusiastic about donating again. She also exhorts others to follow her example, while being grateful for her husband’s love and support. “I appeal to all women to stay strong in your decision,’ she says. “They say the greatest gift is the gift of life and it is a golden opportunity to gift it if you are found to be a match. If I am found to be a match again, I will definitely donate again.” Thanks to awareness campaigns, in its 10th year of inception, DATRI has completed the facilitation of 500 unrelated blood stem cell donations in India. Founded by Raghu Rajagopal, Dr. Nezih Cereb, and Dr. Soo Young Yang, DATRI is India’s largest blood stem cell donor registry, with more than 3,90,000 registered donors. Dr. Cereb appeals to all Indians between 18 and 50 years to register themselves with stem cell registries as incidences of blood disorders are on the rise.
“THEY SAY THE GREATEST GIFT IS THE GIFT OF LIFE AND IT IS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY TO GIFT IT IF YOU ARE FOUND TO BE A MATCH. IF I AM FOUND TO BE A MATCH AGAIN, I WILL DEFINITELY DONATE AGAIN.”K Masilamani – Stem cell donor
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