When Vansh was born, his parents were little aware of any abnormality in his health, until he was around three months old. “He would look weak and fatigued, his face started turning a little yellowish. The doctor revealed the most heartbreaking news to us – my son was a patient of thalassemia major,” shares Bimla, Vansh’s mother.
His parents soon realised that their son’s genetic disorder has no assured cure. He has to undergo weekly blood transfusions, if not more frequently. “I was so scared. How will my little child put up with such a painstaking process?” recalls Satish, Vansh’s father.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
Gradually, the procedure became an integral part of Vansh’s life as he reached his teenage years. He underwent blood transfusions for eight prolonged years. With every passing session, his hope of being cured would dwindle a little more. Yet, little did Vansh and his family know that a miracle awaits them. That Harshil, a stranger from a distant England, would save their son’s life was beyond their imagination.
Stem Cell Donation: Most Effective Cure
Vansh is one of the very few recipients of stem cell transplant in India, perhaps the most effective cure to blood-related disorders like thalassemia, leukaemia, sickle cell anaemia etc. His stem cell donor Harshil hails from England where he had registered with DKMS – an international non-profit organisation with a stem cell donor base of over 9.25 million people, dedicated to offering a second chance at life to patients with blood disorders. So far, DKMS has saved the lives of over 78,000 blood disorder patients worldwide.
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In April 2019, DKMS partnered with Bengaluru-based BMST (Bangalore Medical Services Trust) and started its operations in India. Over the years, BMST has emerged as the most trusted blood banking service in Bengaluru, if not the whole of Karnataka. Talking to Efforts For Good, DKMS-BMST CEO Patrick Paul reveals the main reason behind their expansion to India.
Need For A Stem Cell Database In India
“India has an enormous population, with a substantial percentage of children affected by blood disorders, mostly thalassemia. However, most of these children have little access to proper treatment due to lack of awareness. Stem cell transplant from a matching donor has the potential to cure thalassemia or leukaemia completely,” Patrick explains.
Till date, patients’ families in India would have had to get the transplant from donors from abroad, although the probability is higher for them to find a donor among fellow Indians.
, although the probability is higher for them to find a donor among fellow Indians. “So, DKMS wanted to create an extensive stem cell donor database in India and raise mass awareness about this concept,” adds Patrick.
Today, 33,046 people from across India have enlisted themselves as stem cell donors with DKMS-BMST and 16 of them got the chance to provide a second chance at life to patients in need, including both children and adults. Cricket maestro Rahul Dravid is also in full support of the cause.
How Stem Cell Transplant Offers A Magical Cure
Most Indians are still unaware of the existence of stem cell treatment while only a few of us have a vague idea about it.
Patrick describes the basic system, “The Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) gene complex in human chromosome is responsible for all functions of the immune system. Now, this specific gene system is very flexible. Any slight anomaly in any of the genes can result in major blood disorders like leukaemia, thalassemia, aplastic anaemia etc.”
“This gene complex originates in the stem cells of human bone marrow. If stem cells from a donor with similar genetic set-up are transplanted into an affected individual, it will replace his diseased stem cells. New stem cells transcend into the patient’s bone marrow and create a whole new blood system. That’s how the blood disorders can be cured,” he continues to explain.
Finding the perfect matching donor is quite difficult. The DKMS-BMST database will aid to make that task easier. “Since India is a land of multiple ethnicities and genealogical identities, a comprehensive database is more necessary than anywhere else in the world,” remarks Patrick.
Experience Of A Stem Cell Donor
Manish, a Mumbai resident had casually registered with DKMS-BMST as a stem cell donor. He realised the true worth of his action when he got a call about being a potential match for an ailing patient. “That’s when I realised that my small step can give someone another shot at life,” he exclaims.
He had received immense support from his family who believes the greatest service any human being can perform is to save another person’s life. “If that can be done by an effort as simple as being a stem cell donor, then I implore every individual to opt for it,” asserts Anup, Manish’s father.
As a donor, Manish has a crucial request for all other willing donors. “Once you have promised to go ahead with the process, do not back out. You will be taking away someone’s only hope of living again,” he urges.
“It’s In Your Blood”
The above phrase features as the slogan of DKMS-BMST to reach out to more potential donors. “Finding a genetic twin of a person in India is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We are trying our very best to make that task easier. You can be someone’s saviour too,” Patrick urges all the readers.
When a matching donor saves a patient’s life, it ends up forging a strong bond of brotherhood through blood. “Till now, all the donors have become an integral part of their respective patient’s family,” Patrick emphasises.
Thalassemia Awareness In India
DKMS-BMST is trying to popularise the breakthrough concept of stem cell transplant in India, to combat rising cases of blood disorders among newborns. At the same time, people must be sensitised that a simple blood test before marriage or pregnancy can prevent the occurrence of genetic conditions like thalassemia in children.
Thalassemia is a genetic blood disorder which manifests itself in a child if both parents are carriers of a particular genetic anomaly in their HLA system. A simple blood test can diagnose the same and warn potential parents before they conceive, and thus save a newborn’s life.
Widespread awareness needs to be generated about both prevention and cure of thalassemia. Only then the society can offer a new ray of hope to thousands of helpless children.
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
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“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.