DKMS, a blood cancer charity, hosted its first UK Big Love Gala in London, on Thursday 9 November, and an exclusive meeting between a nine-year-old boy and his lifesaver took place.
Ritesh Kukreja,from Bhiwani, India, was diagnosed with thalassemia, a blood disorder, in June 2008. He was receiving blood transfusions twice a month and was told his best chance of survival would be to find a blood stem cell donor – so the urgent search was on.
Hardeep Bains, 42, from Derby, initially registered as a potential blood stem cell donor with the charity in 2013. Hardeep was identified as Ritesh’s lifesaver and the donation took place in January 2015.
Due to strict regulations, the pair haven’t met before and the charity arranged the surprise meeting at the Big Love Gala, hosted by the charity’s founder Peter Harf, his daughter and DKMS Global Ambassador, Katharina Harf, and Charlotte & Alejandro Santo Domingo, at the Natural History Museum.
Hardeep said: “When I got the call to say you’re a match for somebody – I was like I’m doing it no matter what. It was really important for me to donate because having kids myself I can only imagine what the family were going through.”
Hardeep donated her blood stem cells through a peripheral blood stem cell donation at a London location. The process involves the donor’s blood being passed through a machine that isolates and collects the stem cells. The blood stem cells were then transported to India and donated to Ritesh.
Ritesh’s father said: “We learned about DKMS through Dr. Bhurani and we’re lucky to find a match – we were so happy when we found this out. After the transplant it was the happiest day of our lives. Ritesh’s life has been magically transformed and we are hopeful for the future.”
Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukaemia. It is the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK but less than half of the UK population is aware of blood cancer issues.
A blood stem cell donation from a genetically similar person can often be the best hope of survival, but only one in three people in need of a transplant will find a matching donor in their own family. Over 300,000 people in the UK have already registered as potential donors with DKMS. However, as little as 5% of donors have a South Asian heritage and less than 3% of donors are black – making it especially hard to find matching donors for people with a blood cancer from these ethnicities.
Hardeep said: “My heritage is Indian as my parents are from Delhi. There should be more Asians on the register because in our community if we are looking for a donor the chances of finding a match is slim.”
Hardeep is encouraging the nation to register as a potential blood stem cell donor and go on standby to save the life of someone with a blood cancer. She added: “This is one of the most amazing things I’ve done in my life – to be able to give someone a second chance of life is truly humbling. My hope for Ritesh is that he has a great future and a great life ahead of him and to be able to wish him this in person was simply wonderful.”
If you are aged 17-55 years old and in general good health you can register for your home swab kit at www.dkms.org.uk.
The charity doesn’t receive government funding and relies on monetary donations to cover donor recruitment costs. To register one potential blood stem cell donor it costs approx. £40 – please support us in registering more potential lifesavers and donate online.