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Mohammad and his family are from Kuhestak Harbor situated on the southern coast of Iran, where his father works as a fisherman. “Mohammad’s health problems arose when he was 6 years old” said his father, Mr Ghalandari, “He had fever at nights but not during the day. His gums had inflammation”. Mr Ghalandari says that the illness grew worse when Mohammad went into convulsion due to having a high fever. During this time Mohammad’s mother was the only one to care for him due to his father being away for work.
Mohammad’s state was worsening and his family couldn’t understand why. Mr Ghalandari states “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 platelets in his blood was too low. He was hospitalised in Bandar Abbas for 3 days but doctors suggested we take him to Yazd in order to receive more medications and treatment”.
Mohammad’s family made the decision to travel over 800km from their home town to the Shahid Sadoughi Hospital in Yazd.
Mohammad was hospitalized in the oncology ward and eventually, after testing, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a type of cancer that is caused by a DNA mutation in stem cells found in the bone marrow that produce red blood cells, platelets and infection-fighting white blood cells. The mutation causes the stem cells to produce more white blood cells than needed. However, these cells are immature and are not capable of carrying out their normal role helping to fight infections. At the same time, the number of red blood cells and platelets in the blood decreases, bringing on the symptoms of leukaemia.
This news for Mohammad’s family was devastating. Mr Ghalandari stated “Finding our son involved with such a painful disease was so torturing for us … we were all surrounded by such misery.”
After arrival at the hospital in Yazd and the diagnosis, Muhammad started his chemotherapy treatment, with the length of the treatment being particularly hard for the family.
Mr Ghalandari said “He was hospitalized periodically. Since late December of 2006 the treatment was started which took about 2 years.” However, during the 2-year process it was discovered that chemotherapy treatment would not be able to suppress the disease and a new treatment method should be applied. The doctors had advised Mohammad’s family that he be taken to Shariati Hospital in Tehran where he could receive a stem cell transplant to try to cure the disease.
The tests to find a match
To be able to perform the therapy, it was necessary to find a stem cell sample that was a match for Mohammad. Each of Mohammad’s family members had a bone marrow test to determine whether any were a suitable donor. After doctors ran the tests, devastatingly, they found that none of Mohammad’s family members were a match and therefore were unable to donate their stem cells to cure Mohammad.
There remained no other choice for Mohammad than to continue with his chemotherapy treatment in hope that he would show signs of improvement.
However, as Mr Ghalandari said, “Destiny was compiling another story for Mohammad.”
As Mohammad was showing no signs of improvement, his mother would go and sit by his bed each day. One day, a nurse on the ward was warning Mohammad’s mother of the hazardous rays and diseases within the ward and suggested to Mohammad’s mother to take a pregnancy test as it could be harmful to the baby if she was pregnant.
Mohammad’s father states “my wife said no, she wasn’t pregnant but the nurse told her to take one anyway, just in case.” After Mr Ghalandari’s wife left the hospital, she decided to take the nurses advice and take a pregnancy test. “My wife took the nurse’s advice and the test result was positive, she was pregnant”.
Once the doctors found out about the news, they advised Mr Ghalandari and his wife to bank the cord blood cells of the baby upon its arrival and test to see whether it was a match to Mohammad. Mr Ghalandari quotes “I was in full doubt of the coming baby being a full match with Mohammad”. Although he was doubtful, the arrangements were made for the baby’s cord blood to be collected on the day of birth.
On the day of delivery, a technician was present, collecting the cord blood for banking and testing.
The human leucocyte antigen (HLA) test results would normally take up to 3 weeks to process and determine whether Mohammad’s new born brother, Benyamin, was a match. However, Dr Hamidiyeh was head of the treatment team and was aware that the situation was ‘time sensitive’. He pushed to quicken the process and have the results as soon as possible. In under 3 weeks the results were back and to everyone’s surprise Mohammad and his new born baby brother were a full match.
Mr Ghalandari and his family were overjoyed with the news of the match, quoting, “Happiness and hope came back to our family and we were more optimistic for the future.”
After finding out about the full match test results, Mohammad was taken to the Shariati Hospital so that he could begin the procedure. Mohammad’s new born baby brother, Benyamin, was below the standard threshold, this meant that they added a second partially-matched cord blood unit from the public bank donations. Technically, a double cord blood transplant.
Twelve years later and Mohammad has recovered to full health and completely defeated the illness. Mohammad is now studying a human science course at his university and hopes to become a teacher in the future. Mohammad has said that the disease that he suffered from has not caused any issues for him physically, commenting “I am following all my school lessons and assignments and do sport activities just like my classmates and peers, and I’m even better than them.”