A Perth family’s attempt at battling their son Sujith Nayar’s Leukaemia turns into a global awareness mission
Chem Nayar, a renewable energy engineer and professor at Curtin University in Perth, wasn’t ready to consent to the bitter truth exposed by doctors at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane.
His entire family was shocked to learn that his 36-year-old son, Sujith, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia Philadelphia Chromosome-positive in November last year.
“Sujith has always been a hardworking, cheerful and healthy man, and we never imagined he would undergo this,” his mum Ambika Nayar told Indian Link.
An Information Technology graduate from Murdoch University in WA, Sujith grew up in Perth. Career opportunities as an IT specialist took him initially to Canberra and then to Brisbane. He is married to Alloka and has been living in Middle Park, Brisbane since 2006.
Sujith has finished six rounds of chemotherapy at Wesley Hospital. According to his doctor, he is in remission now. However, the treatment will be complete only when he undergoes a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant.
In Australia, the Bone Marrow Registry works closely with the Red Cross Blood Service and has currently about 176,000 people registered, the majority of whom are Caucasians. Even on the global registry, Caucasians make up 80 per cent of donors.
Sujith would be highly likely to find a match from Indians in the 18-45 years age group.
First, Sujith’s sister, Lakshmi, living in US was tested, but unfortunately was not a suitable match. It was then decided to find unrelated donors from the rest of the worldwide Indian community.
While there are bone marrow registries internationally, there are very few Indians registered, and all attempts at finding the right matches failed. So began the Nayar family’s mission at organising donor drives spreading across India, the USA and Australia with the help of relatives and friends.
There is widespread misconception and fear associated with bone marrow donation. People connect the experience with painful bone drilling surgeries and lengthy medical procedures, but the fact is it involves neither of these. The sad truth is that not many even know about the bone marrow registry.
“There are probably many patients like Sujith looking for donors and so we decided to educate and spread awareness about stem cell transplant,” said Chem Nayar.
At a recent bone marrow drive at Bluegum Recreation Centre in Brentwood, WA, nearly 200 donors (mostly Indians) came forward to donate blood samples for testing, and to learn about this whole procedure. Looking at the large response for this noble cause, the drive which was initially scheduled from 10am to 2pm, was extended beyond 4pm. Many attendees have now registered with the Australian Bone Marrow Registry as donors.
Doctors have recommended a simple and safe donor process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation for Sujith. In this process, stem cells are collected via the blood stream. On the day of donation, the donor’s blood is collected from one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. This is a non-surgical outpatient procedure that takes around four hours.
The family plans to organise drives in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney next. A series of awareness messages and campaigns have also been published on Indian community websites and social networking sites.
As they resolutely thanked all the volunteers and donors who came forward, the Nayars’ hands were shaky, yet they put on a courageous smile hopeful that their mission and prayers will not go unanswered.
Learn more about the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry at http://www.abmdr.org.au/