When 11-month-old Zeenia from Pakistan started developing high persistent fever and problems with low blood counts she was initially placed on antibiotics and care. With no improvement in her health, she underwent further tests which revealed that she had Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH); a rare disorder where the bone marrow produces abnormal cells which eat away the normal marrow cells. This results in high fevers, low blood counts, and liver and spleen enlargement and potentially death. The only cure is a Bone Marrow transplant (BMT).
Her family who live in Sahiwal near Lahore initially tried a few hospitals in Lahore, Karachi, and Rawalpindi but found that they were wary of performing the procedure. Determined to find treatment for their child, they continued to search until they heard that NH Health City, Bangalore had extensive experience with Bone Marrow transplants; having performed over 650 of them successfully. When the family reached out, Narayana Health immediately took up to challenge and coordinated their journey to India.
When they arrived in Bangalore, Zeenia’s (who was now 2 years old) health had deteriorated because of the disorder and the strain of travel. The BMT team at NH led by Dr. Sunil Bhat (Senior Consultant and Head of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplant) and Dr.Shobha (Paediatric Hemato Oncologist) initially stabilized her and then began preparing her for the transplant.
Since a BMT procedure requires a donor, her family was tested and fortunately, her 8-month-old brother Rayan was a perfect match, but his age meant that the process would be complicated;
Dr. Bhat explained “The case was very challenging from the donor’s perspective as the donor was just 8 months old. Typically, their bones are very soft and supple. Further, extracting the stipulated dosage may also be quite challenging. However, by using small marrow extraction needles and with the assistance of our able team of anesthetists and other team members, we successfully extracted enough marrow which helped to cure Zeenia. Rayan has not only saved his sister, he also has the unique distinction of being the youngest marrow donor in India”.
Despite the challenges, Zeenia’s transplant was a complete success and the family was ecstatic, the father Mr. Zia Ulla said, “Back home disorders like Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis 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 the bone marrow transplant unit at Narayana Health City. We are grateful to Dr. Sunil Bhat and the entire team for curing my daughter of this dreadful disease. Dr. Sunil Bhat is a very compassionate human being; He could understand our anxieties. In fact, he was extremely patient with us, which was a great support for us to sail through during this testing phase of our life”.
Reflecting on the long history of Indo-Pak relations with respect to cross-border Healthcare, Dr. Sharat Damodar (Senior Consultant Hematologists and Clinical Director, Narayana Health City) noted that this was the second time that Narayana Health had treated a child from Pakistan, the first being 2-year-old Noor Fatima who was treated for her congenital heart disorder several years ago.
As the family departed, they are grateful for the care and treatment provided by Narayana Health and are planning to raise awareness of HLH in Pakistan, Mr. Zia Ulla said “Once we return we want to start an online page and share our story with the public at large. The page will also act as a platform to create awareness about the illness and the possible treatments.”
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