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No Borders in this Battle against Cancer

No borders in fight against cancer
Vigneshwaran with mother Subalakshmi (right) and Shanti Suresh, who raised the funds for his treatment
In a heart–warming story of compassion, an Australian donor, a Singapore doctor and a Chennai philanthropist came together to give a No borders in fight against cancer student a new lease of life.

S Vigneshwaran, a 22–year–old Chennai student has been cured of blood cancer through stem cell therapy in Singapore using stem cells of a donor from Australia, thanks to a friend’s mother who collected money for the treatment.

While Dr Patrick Tan of Mount Elizabeth Hospital successfully carried out the stem cell transplant, the driving force behind the treatment was Shanti Suresh, a friend’s mother who managed Rs 1.25 crore for the procedure. While Shanti garnered Rs 80 lakh, the rest was contributed by Vigneshwaran’s classmates from Guindy Engineering College.

Mount Elizabeth Hospital, which was on a global search for a suitable stem cell donor for Vigneshwaran, stumbled upon a woman donor in Australia within a week of Vigneshwaran’s hospitalisation in Singapore. The samples matched on nine out of 10 counts.

Vigneshwaran had been fighting blood cancer for five years, which included three relapses after different spells of treatment. Now, two years after the transplant (the mandatory period to certify a blood cancer patient as cured), doctors have certified him completely cured. Vigneshwaran says he is indebted to everyone who stood by him, more so his unknown donor from Australia. He will soon be completing his engineering course and has already landed a job with Tata Consultancy Services.

Vigneshwaran’s case study and the astronomical cost involved for conducting the therapy outside the country also bring into focus the need for government’s intervention in popularising stem cell therapy in India and allowing foreign donor participation in the country, besides setting up of cord blood banks across the country. Vigneshwaran hopes his story of fighting the disease will encourage hundreds of blood cancer patients and their family members to opt for stem cell therapy.

Vigneshwaran was diagnosed with blood cancer (acute myeloid leukaemia) when he was studying in 11th standard at his home town in Palani. Since then, he and his family has been through a lot of agony till they found a helping hand in Shanti Suresh and in his classmates at Guindy Engineering College.

“We had lost almost everything in the five years of treatment. But my classmates then took up the matter with my department head and they started raising funds. The turning point was when S Arun, one of my classmates, took up my case up with his parents,” said Vigneshwaran.

Shanti Suresh, mother of Arun, took the initiative to raise funds. She, with the help of her businessman husband, contacted all their sources and managed to raise a first instalment of Rs 40 lakh and then another Rs 40 lakh from her husband’s company.

“Vigneshwaran’s mother Subalakshmi told me that she had overheard him talking to his friends that he wanted to live, for which they had to collect money. I also have a son who is of Vigneshwaran’s age. I decided to do whatever I could for him,” Shanti Suresh said.

Students of Anna University’s Guindy Engineering College had also raised Rs 45 lakh by then. Shanti and the boy’s parents then probed the possible treatments available and learnt about stem cell therapy.

Vigneshwaran had to look for options outside the country as stem cell samples from his blood relatives did not match and there was no cord blood bank in the country to get a non–relative donor. It was only last month that a city–based blood bank has initiated the process of setting up the first public stem cell bank.

Times of India
7 March 2009
Chennai, India

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