NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News  » News » 'Be a donor and save a thousand lives'

'Be a donor and save a thousand lives'

October 20, 2008 22:01 IST

Dr Abhijit Guha, chair, Alan and Susan Hudson Neurooncology, and a clinical researcher at the Western Hospital in Toronto, who has helped thousands of people, is now in need of help himself.  

The 52-year-old neurosurgeon, who did his post-doctoral work at Harvard University, has acute myeloid leukemia, which "rapidly progresses and is difficult to control," said Dr Prateek Lala, who knows Dr Guha well.

Dr Lala was making presentation at the Tagore Center in suburban Etobicoke September 28, where One Match -- which is part of Canadian Blood Services --had set up a center for a bone morrow and stem cell donor registry. 

Dr Guha, admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital and waiting and praying for a bone marrow and stem cell donor, was interviewed from his hospital bed on CBC radio last week. He did not sound hopeful of finding a South Asian donor who would match his bone marrow.

'Unfortunately, South Asian community representation on potential donors is very, very low,' he said. 'If there's a larger pool of potential donors, I may benefit.'

His son Deep, a first year student of medicine at the University of Toronto who was present at the Tagore Center, told India Abroad that his father's blood tests were done in March: "It was all normal."

Dr Guha had to go for a minor elective surgery, explained Deep, in the last week of July. Before the surgery, the hospital did blood tests, when the leukemia was diagnosed.

"So far we haven't found a match for bone marrow and stem cell," Deep said.

As many as 83 people from diverse backgrounds, including a 27-year-old boy of Vietnamese origin, turned up to register as potential donors.

"A friend told me about the drive here. I said why not? I will volunteer," said Johnny Wyn, a volunteer donor. 

The swab samples collected will be tested for HLA (human leukocyte antigen) which, Lala explained "are molecules on the surface of our cells, including stem cells. These markers help our immune systems decide whether or not a cell belongs to our own bodies or not. When we speak about 'matching' donors and recipients for stem cells, we really mean that the donor's and recipient's HLA markers must be the same."

 "We keep registry of people who want to donate stem cells, bone marrow in any part of the world," Beth Amer of One Match explained. "We can match potential donors with patients who have leukemia or any kind of blood disorder and need stem cells and borrow in order to survive."

In Canada, there are 600 patients who need bone marrow and stem cells and some have been waiting for a match for a long time, she said.

A total of 230,000 people are registered with One Match. There are only 5,000 South Asians in this registry.

"That's why  this event is taking place here and it is promoting the awareness within the South Asian community that these registries exist and it is very easy to donate bone marrow, very easy to register and could be saving lives of people all over the world for various kinds of diseases," Dr Lala explained.

Standing with him was 21-year-old Ishtiaq Chowdhury, who studies Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. He said he was not aware of the registry or that "I could be a potential donor till my father Haider Chowdhury got leukemia last year. We have tried all members of our family. We got blood samples from family members in Bangladesh but so far no match has been found and my dad is getting disheartened and losing hope."

He said his father has to go to the hospital twice a week for blood transfusion that keeps him alive.

"His immune system has gone completely and so even if he gets slight temperature, we have to rush him to hospital."

Ishtiaque is hoping the drive at the Tagore Center could help them find a match -- for his father and for Dr Guha.

Dr Lala explained: "Blood donation isn't a difficult process in terms of matching, as there are only four major blood types that you need to be concerned with, whereas in bone marrow there are millions. And so we need to develop these registries. And it is part of the reason it is difficult to explain to general population and it is difficult for the general population to understand why they need to become part of registries to help other people who need bone marrow."

You can find donors for bone marrow within your community. 

"So, it helps the under-represented communities such as the South Asians, the African Americans and all these under-represented groups, minorities, to become aware and register to become potential donors of their stem cells to increase chances of finding a match donor."    

In Canada, donors have to be within 17 and 50 years of age to be registered.

"But in the United States the age limit is 18 to 60," Dr Lala said.  And these cut off dates are based on results of statistics on each country's success rates from donors, he said.

Dr Guha has, Dr Lala said, undergone two rounds of chemotherapy "and we are waiting to see how well it has been done as first time unfortunately it didn't work as well as we hoped. So, he had to undergo a more intensive second round of chemotherapy."

Isthtiaq said, "Younger members of our community have a wider role to play because they are young and they are more likely to join and I would encourage them to look at to find out more information and ask their friends to join because they are better candidates to donate than a lot of older people."

Dr Lala's message to South Asians and other communities: "It [becoming a donor] is something that doesn't take much time at all and it is can potentially save lives all over the world. People need to become aware why they need to become donors. South Asians are very giving people and they want to give to the community. This is another way they can help within the community in life and death situations." 

To become a donor, log on to

Ajit Jain in Toronto