#SaveOurShahera urges the UK’s south Asian community to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register
People adore two-year-old Shahera Khan. The toddler from Croydon, South West London, adores her older brother, five-year-old Amaan and loves playing with a toy kitchen.
The toy kitchen is at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Shahera has recently been diagnosed with a very rare immunodeficiency disorder. It’s a fault in her immune system and means Shahera is unable to produce enough white blood cells making her susceptible to infections.
‘Shahera is currently taking medication to protect her against serious bacterial infections and she has immunoglobulin transfusions every week,’ says her mum, Amina.
‘At the moment she is doing okay but she’s getting side effects from the medication. Little Shahera is mum of four baby dolls: Nina, Tina, Gina who are triplets and Suzy! She looks after them, cooks, baths and feeds them before putting them bed.’
Shahera’s family have been told a stem cell transplant is her best chance of leading a normal life. Doctors will give her new, healthy stem cells via the bloodstream, where they begin to grow and create healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. But Shahera needs a stem cell donor. Nobody in her family is a genetic potential match, so the family is working with blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to raise awareness of the stem cell donor register.
Shahera needs a stranger who is willing to donate their stem cells to give her a second chance of life. However, the search is made more difficult due to her background. She has Bangladeshi heritage. Currently patients, like Shahera, from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background have a 20% chance of finding the best possible stem cell donor match, compared to 69% for people with white, European heritage.
Amina says: ‘We need to find Shahera a donor as soon as possible. We want to raise awareness in the Asian, and particularly Bangladeshi, community so people come forward - not only to help Shahera but for anyone who needs a donor. It’s shocking that there is no match for Shahera and other people from Asian backgrounds.
‘With Shahera’s condition the doctors would like to do the transplant as soon as possible. They’ve given us a couple of months to find a donor and suggested spring or summer this year for the transplant.
‘Shahera is wonderful. She touches everybody she meets; from family and friends to the people she meets in the hospital. She’s very calm and everyone just loves her, she’s funny too. To look at her, you wouldn’t believe she was ill but what is going on inside is a totally different story.
‘We don’t want her to miss out on anything. She will be starting nursery this year September, but we don’t know what will happen because of her treatment.
‘We’re a happy family unit. My husband and I both work and we slot Shahera’s appointments in around family life. It’s nerve wracking and upsetting, waiting to find a donor. It feels like a long process. It’s not easy, we have our bad days as well as good days, but all we can do is look forward, and do everything we can to find Shahera a donor.’
Sarah Rogers, Register Development Manager at Anthony Nolan says: ‘Little Shahera wants to go to nursery, learn and make more friends just like other toddlers olds across the UK. For this to happen she needs a stranger to donate their stem cells.
‘If you’re aged 16–30 you can join the register online and we’ll send you a cheek swab in the post. If you’re found to be a match for a patient, you could donate your stem cells and give hope to families like Shahera’s. Your support could help us give a patient, their family and their friends a second chance of life.’
Anthony Nolan is the charity that finds matching donors for people with blood cancer – and gives them a second chance of life.
The charity also carries out ground-breaking research to save more lives and provide information and support to patients after a stem cell transplant, through its clinical nurse specialists and psychologists, who help guide patients through their recovery.
People aged 16–30 who are in good general health can find out more, and join the Anthony Nolan register at www.anthonynolan.org/shahera.