Cancer girl Zara is saved ...with the frozen cells of a baby born a decade ago
By Lucy Laing For more information about donation, visit anthonynolan.org.
TODAY, Zara Kundra celebrates the 11th birthday her family feared she would never see, after developing life-threatening leukaemia.
But she is fast returning to a normal life, thanks to an unknown baby born a decade ago – and the public-spirited parents who froze the blood from its umbilical cord.
When Zara was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, an aggressive blood cell cancer, doctors launched a worldwide search for a bone marrow donor – but couldn’t find a match.
‘We didn’t know what we were going to do,’ recalls her mother Taruna. ‘It was such devastating news, we didn’t know what the future held for Zara.’
Medics then widened the search to include frozen umbilical cord blood – which is rich in the same stem cells found in bone marrow – and discovered the ten-year-old sample in a US blood bank.
‘It was amazing,’ said 41-year-old Mrs Kundra from her Basingstoke home. ‘A stranger’s baby saved my daughter and I thank that mother
every day of my life. I would love one day to meet her.’
Mrs Kundra had first noticed something was wrong with her daughter in October 2019 when she started developing bruises.
They took her to their GP and had blood tests which found Zara’s levels of healthy white blood cells were life-threateningly low. Mrs
Kundra said: ‘We were told we had to take her to hospital straight away. We had moved to Kuwait and had chemotherapy there. It was during Covid and my husband Vikas and son Sammy [now nine] couldn’t come to the hospital so our family was separated, which was heartbreaking.’
Six months later, and back in the
UK, Zara went for a check-up which found the leukaemia was back. ‘We were devastated,’ said Mrs Kundra. Now the only option was a bone marrow transplant.
The worldwide search drew a blank, but cells in the umbilical cord blood in the US were a threequarters match.
Mrs Kundra said: ‘They said it was good enough for a transplant, and it was Zara’s only hope.’ The operation was carried out in June last year at the Royal Marsden Hospital in West London.
But the incomplete match led to a dangerous complication as the donor cells attacked Zara’s own cells, seeing them as foreign. Mrs Kundra said: ‘Zara was so poorly she lost 11lbs in five days and over last Christmas she was very sick.’
But in April she had recovered enough to start back at school for one day a week, and in September she started back full time.
Mrs Kundra said: ‘It’s wonderful to see her doing so well after all she’s been through. It’s amazing to think a stranger’s baby saved my daughter’s life. That baby will be ten now. We are so thankful.’
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