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7th child provides cord blood to save older sibling
Mohammad is a 22-year-old young man who was cured of cancer 12 years ago after a cord blood transplant. Today, Mohammad attends university and he wishes to become a teacher.
The cancer diagnosis
Mohammed’s family is from Kuhestak Harbor, on the southern coast of Iran, where his father is a fisherman. The father, Mr. Ghalandari, tells the story: “We have 8 children, 6 boys and 2 girls. Mohammad is our fourth child. His health problems arose when he was six years old.” At that time, the family had only had 6 children. “He had fever at nights but not during the day. His gums had inflammation.” The illness became very bad when Mohammad went into convulsion due to high fever while his mother was the only person taking care of him because his father was away.
His father continues, “In the hope of finding a cure to his illness, we went to Minab where he received so many tests but with no result to diagnose his illness. In full disappointment, we went to Bandar Abbas, where doctors performed some more specific tests and found out that the rate of platelet in his blood is so low. He was hospitalized in Bandar Abbas for 3 days but doctors suggested we take him to Yazd in order to receive more medications and treatment.”
The family traveled almost 800 km from their home to the Shahid Sadoughi Hospital in Yazd, where Mohammed was hospitalized in the oncology ward. He was ultimately diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts. As a result, patients with AML do not have enough properly functioning red blood cells for breathing, not enough immune cells to fight infections, and not enough platelets to help stop bleeding.
Chemotherapy did not work
Mohammed started chemotherapy at the hospital in Yazd. His father continues, “Finding our son involved with such a painful disease was so torturing for us … we were surrounded by all such misery, doing nothing. He was hospitalized periodically. Since late December of 2006 the treatment was started which took about 2 years.”
Sadly, it became clear that chemotherapy alone could not suppress the disease and a more drastic solution should be applied. The doctors said to take Mohammad to Shariati Hospital in Tehran where he should receive a stem cell transplant to cure his cancer.
The search for a transplant donor
Mohammed’s family members had their blood taken for genetic testing to try to find a matching stem cell donor. To their great disappointment, no one was a close enough match to be a bone marrow donor for Mohammed, not even his 3 older or 2 younger sisters.
The family learned that umbilical cord blood could also be used for stem cell transplants. But a search of the public cord blood banks in Iran did not find a close enough match.
At this point, Mohammed was forced to continue chemotherapy while the doctors debated taking the desperate step of collecting stem cells from Mohammed’s own peripheral blood. This type of transplant does not usually work for leukemia, because the cancer has already invaded the patient’s blood stem cells.
“But destiny was compiling another story for our son.”
The unknown 7th child
One day at the hospital, a nurse came up to Mohammed’s mother and warned her that if she was pregnant she should not stay on the cancer ward near the radiation treatments. The mother answered no, she was not pregnant, but the nurse recommended that she take a pregnancy test just to be safe.
His father continues, “My wife took the nurse’s advice and the test result was positive; she was pregnant. Doctors advised mom cannot stay at hospital due to hazardous rays, but they also suggested we bank the cord blood of coming baby. Perhaps the baby, [although] we were ignorant of his existence, would be the savior of Mohammad.”
Although Mohammed’s father “was in full doubt” that the 7th child would be a match to Mohammad, he made arrangements with Royan Stem Cell Technology Company to cryopreserve the baby’s cord blood stem cells. Meanwhile, Mohammed had to continue with chemotherapy. On the day of the baby’s birth, a technician was present to collect the cord blood and rush it to the laboratory of Royan.
Normally, it would take three weeks to learn the HLA typing (Human Leukocyte Antigen) that would determine if Mohammed’s new brother Benyamin was a close enough match to be his donor. But Dr. Hamidiyeh, the head of treatment team, pushed to have the results expedited as fast as possible. As his father tells the story, “So the HLA test results came in a short time and to our great surprise and cheer, Mohammad and his brother were found in full match genetically.”
Transplant and recovery
The family took Mohammed to Shariati Hospital in Tehran, which is in northern Iran over 1400 km from their home, to have the stem cell transplant. The doctors found that the volume of cord blood from Benyamin was below the standard transplant threshold, so they supplemented it with a second mis-matched cord blood unit from the public bank of donations. In other words, Mohammad had a double cord blood transplant. The family rented a house and stayed in Tehran for six months until Mohammed had recovered.
It is now about 12 years since those days of difficulties and misfortune. Mohammed has grown up in full health and defeated the most difficult challenge that life and destiny placed onto his path. In an interview with Royan, Mohammad stated: “I am studying at human science course in high school and getting ready to participate in university entrance exam. I am deeply interested in football and the disease I suffered from previously does not cause any problem for me at present. I am following all my school lessons and assignments and do sport activities just like my classmates and peers, and even better than them.”