5-year-old battles rare blood cancer: Urgent call for compatible stem donor

Preshthi Ishwarlal. Picture: Supplied

Preshthi Ishwarlal. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 16, 2024


On the back of International Childhood Cancer Day, which was observed on February 15, Palesa Mokomele, the Head of Community Engagement and Communications at DKMS Africa, engaged in a heartfelt interview with Independent Media Lifestyle to share the painful realities faced by families grappling with childhood cancer.

“We celebrate International Childhood Cancer Day and the role that increased awareness plays. It’s a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families,” shared Mokomele.

“Childhood cancer is one of the leading causes of death among children and adolescents worldwide, with more than 400,000 children and adolescents below 20 diagnosed with cancer every year.”

“Therefore, it is critical to raise awareness around childhood cancer, considering that stem cells are often the only hope for children with various blood cancers. The more awareness, the more people register, thereby increasing the chances of saving a child’s life, Mokomele said.

“It is also important to raise awareness so that parents are educated on the signs and symptoms, as they play a vital role in detecting childhood cancer early on.”

She underlined the need for a greater pool of stem cell donations with the story of Arthie Ishwarlal.

Back in 2021, her then two-year-old daughter, Preshthi, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer that affects the bone marrow, white blood cells, red blood cells and blood platelets.

The signs first started in 2021, when Preshthi began experiencing persistent soreness in her legs. Following a doctor’s visit and a number of blood work, the devastating diagnosis was confirmed: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

Preshthi was on daily maintenance chemo treatment from September 2021 after her diagnosis

“Despite undergoing inpatient treatment, Preshthi experienced a relapse earlier this year with doctors saying that her only chance for survival was a stem cell transplant from a matching donor.

“Unfortunately, there is no match for her on the country’s stem cell registry at present.”

Stem cell therapy is often the only treatment offering children with other blood cancers, like lymphomas, any hope of a cure.

“Leukaemia and lymphomas are two of the five most common cancers among South Africa’s youth, with the former accounting for 34% of childhood cancer cases and the latter 11%,” said Mokomele.

She urged South Africans aged between 17 and 55 who are in good general health to register as donors, to donate.

We celebrate International Childhood Cancer Day and the role that increased awareness plays. Picture:Angiola Harry/Unsplash

In honour of International Childhood Cancer Day, the South African government and major health organisations have also come together to highlight the need for more support for young cancer patients.

In a joint statement, they emphasised the commitment of various sectors, including SAAPHO and CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa, in strengthening the fight against paediatric cancer.

Hedley Lewis, CEO of CHOC, stressed the importance of healthcare professionals, community workers, and caring citizens in providing vital support to young cancer patients and survivors, as well as their families.

“Cancer impacts negatively on siblings and other family members. The challenges faced by these families extend beyond medical treatment, encompassing emotional, physical and social, financial, educational, and long-term health effects.”

Mokomele highlighted the shortfall in ethnically diverse stem cell donors, noting that while 73,000 donors are registered in South Africa, the chances of finding an ideal match are distressingly slim, at roughly one in a hundred thousand.

She said there was an urgent need for a more diverse pool of stem cell donors, particularly in light of the situation faced by young Preshthi, who urgently needs a donor match following her relapse.

‘It is important that the donor pool reflects the diverse ethnic makeup of South Africa in order to increase the chances of Ishwarlal's survival,“ said Mokomele.

∎ South Africans can contribute to saving young lives like Preshthi by registering at: https://www.dkms-africa.org/register-now. Registration is entirely free and takes less than five minutes. For further information, get in touch with DKMS Africa at 0800 12 10 82.