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Father's search for stem cell donor to save his teenage daughter

A father from Watford is calling on people across the UK to join the Anthony Nolan register and save his 18-year-old daughter’s life. 

In 2016, at the age of 15, following a family holiday Sheena Shah became achy and lethargic. After losing her appetite Sheena was taken to see her family GP, who referred her for blood tests to rule out a virus. 

A few hours after Sheena’s blood tests, her mother, Nilpa received a phone call. 

Minesh, Sheena’s father, recalls: ‘My wife called me and asked me to come home early. I thought it was odd, but she didn’t tell me everything over the phone.

‘We took Sheena straight back to the hospital, where we stayed overnight. The next day a bed was found for Sheena at UCH. It was a nightmare; Sheena was 15.’ 

‘We had a normal, happy life before Sheena was diagnosed. The kids were at school and there weren’t any problems,’ says Minesh. 

Sheena was treated with high dose chemotherapy and steroids, and responded well. Treatment finished in November 2018. 

Minesh says: ‘At that point there was no reason to worry because the results looked good. 

‘Sheena missed much of the school year, so repeated the first year of her A Levels. She achieved good exam results and was really flying. 

‘Sheena knew she wanted to study medicine, and we were looking at universities. She was on track to get the grades she needed, and was planning for the entry exams.’

Last month Sheena, and her family, were given the devastating news that her leukaemia had returned. She needs a stem cell transplant: cells from a healthy person, with the same tissue type, to replace and repair her own damaged cells. However, the search is made more difficult due to Sheena’s Asian heritage. 

Currently, donors from Asian backgrounds, make up 5% of the Anthony Nolan register. Additionally, patients from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have a 20% chance of finding the best possible donor match, compared to 69% for people with white, European heritage.

‘Sheena was having six-weekly check-ups at UCH, as standard, and we had a family holiday to the Maldives planned,’ says Minesh. 

‘Sheena attended her appointment, as standard. Four days later we were told that her leukaemia had returned. 

‘We cancelled our holiday and Sheena was admitted to hospital. We were told she would need a stem cell transplant… It was another shock, this time particularly tough because of what we know about the odds of finding a match.’ 

Sheena’s family are campaigning to raise awareness of the need for more stem cell donors.  

Minesh says: ‘Something as straightforward as joining the register could save a life. And to be a match, to give hope to families like mine is just… priceless. 

‘I’m sharing our family’s story because we want to get more people on the register. The more people that join, the more potential there is to save lives. People can really save lives, which is amazing when you think of it. 

‘If it was your child, what would you do? You would wish every person in the world would register.’

Sarah Rogers, Register Development Manager at Anthony Nolan says: ‘We’re all thinking of Sheena, and are here to supporting the Shahs as they wait for news of a matching stem cell donor. 

‘By sharing his family’s story to inspire others to join the stem cell register Minesh is doing an incredible thing. Each new donor who joins could mean a second chance of life for someone like Sheena.’

Find out more about joining the stem cell register at www.anthonynolan.org/sheena 

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