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Cancer-struck Indian professor waits for donor

Sunday April 28, 2013 09:29:18 AM, Quaid Najmi, IANS

Mumbai: The clock is ticking away for an Indian-origin professor at Stanford who is suffering from leukaemia and is desperately waiting for a bone marrow donor match.

Nalini Ambady, hailing from Kerala, practically has only around 7-8 weeks by which to find a matching donor, according to a close family friend Dilip D'Souza in Mumbai.

"After around eight weeks or so, she may not be healthy enough to accept the treatment even if a matching donor is found," rued D'Souza, adding that they were making all efforts to find one in Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, and among south Indians in general.

After hearing of Ambady's medical predicament, D'Souza and other Indian friends like Sudhir Rao and social networking groups assumed responsibility of identifying a potential donor for her in India.

They took up the cause after doctors in the US failed to find a match in the US National Marrow Donor Program which has around 10 million registered donors.

"Actually, there were around a dozen potential matches found, but all rejected at different subsequent stages for various reasons. A proper match had also been found in Mumbai, but the youth backed off at the last minute for some personal reasons," D'Souza said.

They also hunted in two Indian stem cell donor registries which have around 50,000 donors - a fraction compared to the Indian population - but again did not succeed in getting a match. D'Souza, Rao and others are making all-out efforts to find a donor match as soon as possible but are encountering certain practical problems.

For instance, the swab test alone costs Rs.2,500 and many people are reluctant to shell out this amount.

Though many came for the test, paid for the kit and some also donated for the cause, D'Souza said they were even willing to bear the cost if more volunteers came forward.

In the past couple of weeks, the group has managed to test around 700 volunteers in Mumbai, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, but given the odds and the race against time, it is barely sufficient.

While Ambady has donated $25,000 for the effort, her family in India also donated around Rs.3.75 lakhs in the hope of finding a right donor match - considered a 1 in 20,000 possibility by her doctors.

Besides the cost of the test, the results take around 3 weeks to arrive before the follow-up procedures can be taken up.

After a proper match is found, the donor undergoes five days' pre-medication - with the possibility of minor side effects - and then the actual donation process takes place, which is similar to blood donation. Thereafter, the stem cells would be flown to the US by a special medical courier and then administered to Ambady.

The Palo Alto-based Ambady is the first Indian American woman professor working in the psychology department at Stanford University. Earlier she served at Harvard University, from where she acquired her doctorate and later also worked at Tufts University.

D'Souza said that after a recent spell of hospitalization, Ambady is presently at home and may be undergo another round of treatment in a hospital. Her lawyer husband Raj Marthatia and two teenaged daughters, Maya and Leena, live with her.

Besides tapping various Malayalee associations in and around Mumbai and in Kerala, D'Souza and the band of good Samaritans have now decided to insert advertisements and appeals in the Kerala media seeking donors to save Ambady's life.

Earlier this week, Ambady spoke with D'Souza. "She sounded very cheerful and appeared unperturbed about her medical condition," he said.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at )






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