Search is on for bone marrow donor

Three-year-old Raqeeb Palm who suffers from aplastic anaemia needs a stem cell transplant.

A three-year-old Heideveld boy dreams of seeing Disney on Ice! But having aplastic anaemia has left him with a compromised immune system which makes it impossible for him to be in an enclosed space full of germs.

Raqeeb Palm is also unable to do all the other things that little boys enjoy such as playing in the park with his friends, attending creche and going shopping with his mom and dad.

Raqeeb was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia in October last year.

His mother, Zaida Palm, began to worry when slight knocks and soft falls left him with bruises that took weeks to heal.

She kept monitoring her son but in August last year she decided to take him to the doctor to put her mind at ease.

Raqeeb had to have blood tests and the results were so serious that Ms Palm was called back to the doctor the very same day they were taken.

“The doctor said that his blood results had shocked the people at the lab because his platelet count was so low and wanted it to be retested,” she said.

Raqeeb went for a second blood test and that too came back with the same result; instead of having a normal platelet count of 120, his was just six.

Ms Palm said doctors wondered how her son was still able to walk and run around and asked many questions as his condition baffled them.

Raqeeb was admitted to Rondebosch Medical Centre and got an appointment at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital’s oncology and haematology unit.

At the hospital, Ms Palm said, a bone marrow biopsy was performed and they waited for 12 weeks for the results.

Raqeeb was discharged from hospital but went in regularly for platelet and blood transfusions when he needed it. After that a second biopsy was performed and about three weeks went by before they heard the results.

Finally, in October, Raqeeb was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia which occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. It leaves you feeling fatigued and with a higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding. In March this year he started receiving Anti-Thymocyte Globulin (ATG) treatment.

ATG works by killing specific cells in your immune system called T-lymphocytes – the cells that attack bone marrow stem cells. This allows an aplastic anaemia patient’s bone marrow to rebuild its supply of bone marrow stem cells, causing blood platelets to increase.

Aplastic anaemia can develop at any age and may occur suddenly, or it can occur slowly and get worse over time. Treatment for the condition includes medication, blood transfusions or a stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant.

Ms Palm said that at the moment there are six possible donors from abroad, from America, India, China, Germany and Thailand.

She said that the medical aid covers most of the fees but would not cover an international operation. The family urgently needs locals to get tested as it would be much cheaper if a match could be found here.

Ms Palm said her son’s condition is taking a huge toll on her family. She said her 13-year-old daughter, who is currently in Grade 8, doesn’t get the attention she deserves because everyone is focused on helping her son get better.

“I feel so bad neglecting her and she always says that’s it’s fine but I know it isn’t,” said an emotional Ms Palm.

She said that Raqeeb, who used to be afraid of needles and hated taking medication, has now accepted that he is sick and needs help.

She described him as a loving, friendly child who loves making jokes.

“He just creeps into everyone’s heart and wraps everyone around his finger,” she said.

She said her mother, Juleiga Adams, looks after Raqeeb daily and has been her pillar of strength.

Anyone who would like to get tested and added to the bone marrow registry can contact the Sunflower Fund on 0800 12 10 82.