UAE’s first bone marrow transplant from a donor to a child has been successfully performed at a private hospital in Abu Dhabi.
The highly advanced life-saving allogeneic stem cell bone marrow transplant was carried out on Jordana, a five-year-old girl from Uganda, with the donor being her 10-year-old sister. Jordana had been suffering from sickle cell disease since birth and was regularly admitted to the hospital due to complications.
The family residing in Uganda was advised by their doctor to try taking Jordana for advanced care to Burjeel Medical City (BMC) in Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed Bin Zayed City.
“The doctor treating my child back in Uganda advised us to come to the UAE’s Burjeel Medical City. I did research about the hospital and chose to come here,” Florence, Jordana’s mother, said.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder which results in an abnormality in the haemoglobin found in red blood cells, causing them to become sickle shaped and leading to several complications including anaemia, swelling in the hands and feet, frequent pain, acute chest syndrome, and sometimes stroke.
The only cure for sickle cell disease is a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, doctors at BMC were able to find a full match donor in Jordana’s sister, who was flown to Abu Dhabi for the procedure.
“Jolina, our elder daughter, became the donor for the transplant. She was very positive when she came to know that she can be the donor,” the mother told Khaleej Times.
Dr Zainul Aabideen, head of department of paediatric haematology and oncology at BMC, noted: “Prior to this procedure there would have been immense suffering for the patient. The entire care team here at the hospital, as well as the child’s parents, are delighted that the transplant will relieve this pain from her life.”
Allogeneic stem cell transplant involves transferring healthy blood stem cells from a donor to replace a patient’s diseased or damaged bone marrow. The highly complex and specialised procedure requires collecting stem cells from the donor’s blood, bone marrow within a donor’s hipbone, or blood of a donated umbilical cord, before transferring to the patient, once they have undergone an intense series of chemotherapy or radiation — also known as the “conditioning” process — to fully kill their diseased cells and prepare their body to receive the healthy donor stem cells. Once infused into the bloodstream, the donor cells begin creating new blood cells within the patient’s bone marrow. The treatment is followed by several weeks of close medical care and attention, as well as blood test checkups to monitor the body’s response to the new cells.
And now little Jordana is recovering well and will be discharged in the next few days.
“They have provided all the care needed. We felt at home being here. We also want to thank the UAE rulers and authorities for allowing us to come here for the treatment and for providing world-class treatment,” Florence added.
Treatment of child from Iraq
BMC’s integrated bone marrow transplant unit was inaugurated in September 2021. The hospital is currently performing bone marrow transplantation for another child from Iraq, suffering from thalassemia major, a severe blood disease in children which requires regular blood transfusion and very expensive medicine for the duration of their life. The only curative treatment for this life-limiting chronic disease is bone marrow transplantation.
Professor Humaid Alshamsi, director of VPS Oncology at BMC, noted that it was “very challenging job” to set up the bone marrow transplant unit for the first time in the UAE, especially during the pandemic.
“The consistent commitment of our team has allowed us to set up the first and most comprehensive bone marrow transplant unit. Previously, our patients needed to travel abroad for this highly specialised treatment. The recent success of the stem cell transplants at our institution will provide new hope to the many patients who will benefit from similar care.”
BMC plans to further expand their bone marrow transplant capabilities across the region in the near future, to continue to change the lives of adults and children suffering from chronic and life-altering conditions in need of such treatment, especially those who do not have insurance support to cover the cost.