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As life stems from love

Posted May 15th, 2018, 10:55 AM IST

As life stems from love

It was her dad’s birthday; Kanmani wanted to do something noble. She grew up watching him – Dr Kannan – serving the rural folk in their village Pachaperumalpetti in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, for over two decades and somehow wanted to follow his path of empathy and compassion. Taking a cue from the bone marrow transplant symposium she attended at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, where she was a medical student, Kanmani registered as a stem cell donor, hoping to help the needy some day. Her wait ended four years later, in March 2017, when she got a call informing that a matching recipient was found.

“That came as a surprise, because finding a match wasn’t that easy. Only one out of 1,000 or a million could find a matching stem cell. All I was told is that it was for a girl who was undergoing treatment in Bengaluru,” recalls Kanmani, who was gearing up for her graduation ceremony which was just two days away. “My graduation day was very important for my parents who have been looking forward to that big day. But this was an important day too and I couldn’t give up both,” says Kanmani, who has been carrying her donor card in her wallets, which changed over the years.





Kanmani with Shreemalli Balasooriya.
Kanmani with Shreemalli Balasooriya.

As a medical student and as a human being, this was her moment to act and she did. Kanmani was admitted to the hospital where she took the injections that stimulate the body to release blood stem cells. She suffered severe bone pain after which her veins became weak, but a determined Kanmani didn’t back out. In three-four hours, the procedure was complete and she was advised two days of rest. But she made it to the ceremony and made her parents proud. A year later, the same venue witnessed another event, which made her parents, villagers, friends, teachers and everyone who has ever known her beam with pride. At the event organised by Datri Blood Stem Cell Donors Registry, Kanmani, now a doctor, was honoured for becoming the first female stem cell donor from Kerala. There, she met her blood sister – six-year-old Sri Lankan girl Shreemalli Balasooriya, who had bade goodbye to the painful Thalassemia which has been tormenting her since two months of age. “That was an emotional, divine moment. It was my blood in her body and hers in mine. I can’t explain that feeling,” says the 23-year-old doctor, who is back in her village, where people are looking her with a glint of pride and love in their eyes. “My villagers are very happy; though they don’t know the medical terms or related details, they know I have helped a child get cured,” she smiles.

Kanmani with her parents.
Kanmani with her parents.

Born to Dr Kannan, a diabetologist who is into community service, and Thangamani, a government school teacher, both Kanmani and her brother Mani Vignesh were always surrounded by abundant love and lessons of compassion, motivating them to follow their parents’ footsteps. “I will continue to spread awareness on stem cell donation, about which the public has many misconceptions. I chose to donate because as a doctor, I was well aware that it was my only chance to save a life,” she adds. Explaining that stem cell transplant and stem cell therapy are different, she says, “Therapy is an upcoming field where biological experiments on treatment for conditions like arthritis and autism spectrum are happening. But transplant means cure to bloodline-related disorders. The damaged cells produced in a patient’s body are replaced by healthy blood cells; it’s a curative procedure.”

With her act and further activities, she wishes to bust several myths related to stem cell donation. “People, especially women, are very scared about even donating blood. A simple act of donating our stem cell might end the pain and suffering of a little child like Shreemalli. Finding a match is a genetically complicated process. A patient has only 25 per cent chance of finding a matching donor within the family. Also, a registered patient can find a match only among the registered donors. So, it is important to sign up.”

More than 1,500 are awaiting donors in DATRI database alone. But thanks to Kanmani, following whom more than 500 medicos from her alma mater alone have registered to donate their stem cells. More than 100 new registrations were recorded at DATRI alone. Glad to have inspired a lot of people, Kanmani wants to continue her crusade, because she knows better that a donor can save life. Every day, from across the border, Shreemalli video chats with her, dreaming of becoming like her akka, a doctor who saves lives.

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