Picture of five-year-old Eesa Hussain on the beach. Eesa is holding a red bucket and green spade as he stands on the shore.

Family of Blackburn five-year-old issue urgent plea for more South Asian stem cell donors

February 26, 2024

The family of a five-year-old from Blackburn, recently diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, have issued an urgent plea for people from South Asian backgrounds to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register, after being told he is in urgent need of a transplant.

Eesa Hussein is a funny little boy who loves his two-year-old little brother, Ali, and playing with his dinosaurs. He was in his second term at reception, when his parents noticed he was becoming lethargic after school. Just months later they were told that Eesa had aplastic anaemia, an acute blood disorder which is diagnosed in just 100-150 people a year in the UK.

His father, Mosan, says: “The first term flew by and midway through his second term he started to get tired from school.

“When I finished work and came home knackered, he used to say, ‘Daddy let’s do this, Dad let’s play’. He wasn't doing that anymore. We monitored it. He got better than and then on New Year's Day he was unwell again.

“We took him to hospital. I brought Ali home and, later, my wife called me. She told me to come back to the hospital where doctors told us it could be aplastic anaemia or leukaemia. I had never heard of aplastic anaemia – as soon as you Google it words like ‘critical’ stand out. It’s intense and overwhelming.”

Eesa is under the care of Manchester Children’s Hospital. He needs a stem cell transplant – a treatment which will replace his blood stem cells with new, healthy stem cells from a suitable donor.

The charity Anthony Nolan has been helping to match patients in need of transplants with donors for 50 years. A matching donor is more likely to be somebody from the same background and ethnicity which is why Mosan is sharing his family’s story to raise awareness of the need for more stem cell donors, particularly from the South Asian and Arab communities.

Additionally, Anthony Nolan needs young men aged 16–30 to sign up because the group provide more than 50% of all stem cell donations but make up 16% of the register.

Eesa has experienced bouts of neutropenia, which means the low number of white blood cells in his blood makes it harder for him to fight infection. Mosan says: “If his temperature goes up to 38, we need to get him to hospital quickly, so we have suitcases packed and, in our car, ready to go.”

Eesa can only receive a stem cell transplant once a donor has been identified.

Yasmin Sheikh, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Anthony Nolan, says: “Ever since Shirley Nolan set up the world’s first stem cell register 50 years ago, we’ve been doing everything we can to help connect patients and donors. Every person signing up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register could, one day, give a patient like Eesa a second chance at life.

“There are currently more than 900,000 amazing people on the Anthony Nolan register. But the charity can only help more patients if we continuously build and diversify the Anthony Nolan register – we particularly need people from a minority ethnic background to sign up to be potential donors as they are more likely to have a rare tissue type.”

Mosan wears a plaster over a fake Hickman line to help Eesa feel more comfortable about the line in his chest doctors installed to help administer medicine and take blood. He says: “As the Qur’an says: “Saving one life is like saving the whole of humanity. By signing up to the stem cell register, that’s what we could all be doing.”

Founded in 1974 by Shirley Nolan, Anthony Nolan was the world’s first stem cell register. Over the last 50 years the Anthony Nolan register has matched potential stem cell donors to blood cancer and blood disorder patients in need of transplants. To date the charity has facilitated more than 26,500 transplants worldwide.

People aged 16-30, who are in good general health can find out more about stem cell donation and sign up to the Anthony Nolan register at anthonynolan.org/MyNameIsEesa