Bhavesh Bajaj squealed with delight every time the red balloon he was rubbing with his tiny fingers emitted a crackling sound, at the Christmas party for thalassemic children at Jaslok Hospital on Thursday.
Vinod (35) and Richa (28) smiled, watching their 19-month-old son play, blissfully unaware that he had got a new life thanks to his six-year-old sister Sonal and Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT).
Bhavesh was diagnosed with thalassemia major three months after he was born. Since then, he had to be given blood transfusions at least once a month or he would become weak and start vomiting anything he was fed. Sonal has thalassemia minor, which is asymptomatic.
After consulting many doctors in Chhattisgarh’s Dhantari village, where the family lives, Vinod brought Bhavesh to Jaslok oncologist Dr SH Advani for BMT in February.
“Siblings often have matching tissue types. Luckily, Sonal’s matched Bhavesh’s perfectly, so we could use her bone marrow,” said Dr Advani.
In October, Bhavesh was put on week-long, strong chemotherapy course to completely destroy his bone marrow.
Dr Advani and Dr Tapan Saikia then took healthy bone marrow (containing stem cells) from Sonal’s body and injected it into Bhavesh’s blood stream.
Bhavesh was then confined to a sterile room for a month with his mother Richa (28) so that his body could recover without catching infections.
Now, Bhavesh has thalassemia minor like his sister and can lead a normal life, with just a few precautions.
Bhavesh is the youngest of the six patients who have undergone successful BMT at Jaslok since 2003. Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) is an established treatment for thalassemia major, which has no other cure.
Unfortunately, few families can afford the expensive procedure. “Hardly 10 per cent of thalassemic children undergo bone marrow transplant,” said Dr Advani.
Bhavesh, too, would have had to continue to suffer if it wasn't for Helping Hand, a welfare organisation run by Dr Advani.
Vinod, who works at a shoe shop, was able to mobilise Rs 4 lakh through various trusts connected to Helping Hand.
The remaining Rs 1 lakh he got from the Chhattisgarh government.