Each Sunday morning, Saajan Singh bathes his four-year-old son Kulraj in the healing waters of the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib sarovar and prays for a miracle.
It’s been a weekly ritual for the Singh family for two years, ever since Kulraj was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia — a lifethreatening condition in which his bone marrow cannot make enough new blood cells.
He needs a bone-marrow transplant, which costs Rs. 10 lakh in a government hospital and Rs. 12 to Rs. 15 lakh in a private hospital.
Singh, 35, is a Sikh refugee from Kabul who earns Rs. 8,000 a month working as a shop assistant in Palika Bhavan. He had no money, he just prayed for a miracle. This Sunday, a miracle did happen.
Dr Devi Shetty, chairman and founder of Narayana Health, read about the boy’s condition and called HT to offer to do transplant absolutely free in Bangalore.
“We do a large number of bonemarrow transplants at Narayana Health, and can easily do one free of cost,” says Dr Shetty, best known for leveraging economies of scale to bring down hospital costs and offering health insurance to the poor.
Kulraj and his brother now need to undergo human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue-matching, which is a protein used to match the recipient with a donor. “In the case of siblings, the chances of a match are 30%. If there is no match, then it’s tough. The only option left will be foreign donor registries, which are very expensive. The transplant will succeed only if there is HLA tissue match,” says Dr Shetty.
Then help came from another source: Indraprastha Apollo Hospital offered to do the HLA tissue-matching free of charge.
Kulraj and brother Sonu, 11, spent Monday afternoon undergoing HLA tissue matching. The test costs 22,000.
“How well the donor’s and recipient’s HLA tissue types match plays a larg e par t in whether the transplant will work. A match is better when all six of the known major HLA antigens are the same — a 6 out of 6 match. People with these matches have a lower chance of graft-versus-host disease, graft rejection, having a weak immune system, and getting serious infections,” says Dr Shetty.