MUMBAI: Nikhil Kumbhar, who works in Gurgaon, had never met Hrishi Ingawale, a kindergarten student in Mumbai. But they do share a bond—Nikhil’s blood stem cells have given the fiveyear-old a new lease of life.
On Tuesday, the two met for the first time at an event organized by Chennai-based Datri donor registry — a first-of-its-kind meeting between a donor and recipient of stem cells in the country. As Hrishi sat on his wife Deepti’s lap, Nikhil (28) could not hold back his emotions. “I feel responsible, I see him as my own,” he said.
A gift awaited him from Hrishi’s mother Archana Ingawale—a box of homemade laddoos. “It’s Bhai Dooj today and I have made these for you,” she said. Her husband Anil Ingawale looked on with eyes full of tears and gratitude.
Hrishi, who was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder—chronic granulomatous disease—when he was just a year-old, received stem cells from Nikhil last year. “I had promised Hrishi that he would go to school, make friends and study like a normal child. I could keep my promise because of Nikhil,” said Archana.
Doctors had said Hrishi needed a stem cell transplant to live, but they needed cells that matched perfectly. The Ingawales found no match within the family. The couple had one more baby just to give it another chance. “The newborn’s stem cells did not match Hrishi’s. We were shattered,” said Archana.
Hrishi’s hematologist Dr Revathi Raj requested Datri to hunt for a matching donor. In November 2011, Nikhil had registered as a donor in a drive organized by his company to help a cancer-afflicted colleague. Three months later, he received a call saying his stem cells matched perfectly with a patient living in Mumbai. At first, he refused to donate, but Datri’s director Raghu Rajagopal flew to Delhi from Chennai to convince him. Nikhil made the donation in March 2012 in Delhi. “We were married for just few weeks then. Initially, I was really scared, but once we learnt all about stem cell donation, we decided to go ahead,” said Deepti.
Both the donor and recipient details were kept under wraps. Today, after doctors have declared Hrishi completely cured, Datri brought the two families together. Datri has registered 43,000 volunteers and has helped in 40 stem cell transplants. “Certain blood diseases can only be cured by stem cell transplant,” said Dr Raj. While 30% of people find a match within their family, the rest have to find an unrelated donor. Young people should come forward as donors, she said.