Donor Rita

I am so honored to have been able to bring to someone else the gift of life itself, with no cost to myself but a few hours. Although I was a bit nervous in the beginning, and there were of course people who questioned why I would “risk” my health, with my family’s support, Gayatri’s encouragement, and the scientific reassurance I received from doctors, I decided to go through with it… and I am so glad I did! It was a fairly easy process, and I have nothing but gratitude for being able to do that for someone. I am just as healthy as before, and encourage anyone who is able to sign up as well. Trust me, it’s a gift for the donor as well as the receiver. It can be so tough to find a match sometimes. Imagine your family in that situation. You are needed. Go for it.

Poonam Chauhan

An Act of Kindness: Giving Someone a Second Chance to Live

From the 18th July (The birth of my first daughter 5 years ago) to the 17th August 2022 it is South Asian Heritage month. To commemorate, celebrate and educate. Two major anniversaries this year include the 75th anniversary of the independence of India, partition and creation of Pakistan and the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin, Both key events in history. This month gives focus to South Asian communities and a platform for us. For me it still highlights the lack of BAME donors on the registry.

In 2020 I was fortunate enough to donate my stem cells to a man across the pond in New York searching for a donor. I was saddened to find out that many donors had pulled out last minute due to the covid 19 pandemic and fear around entering a hospital for the donation; so many patients lost their hope during that time.

I signed up via DKMS in July 2018 to be a donor after reading about a 5-year-old girl called Kaiya. I attended a drive in London to Be Kaiya’s match. Kaiya is now an angel but continues to inspire others to join the register and helps families find hope. The chances of getting called so quickly are rare. I am grateful to have the opportunity to give someone a second chance at life.

In 2019 I received communication I had been matched and the process for stem cell donation began. The process beforehand involved blood samples taken at my local hospital, a couple of medicals at the London clinic which also gave detailed advice on the injections and dosages I needed to take beforehand. My husband administered a few injections daily in readiness for the stem cell collection in the lead up to a couple of days at the London Clinic for the donation. Normally a nurse would be able to administer these for you but due to the pandemic this meant limitations. My first stem cell donation was in April 2020. DKMS and the doctors and nurses at the London clinic were so compassionate and caring. Besides a few needles the process was closer to a spa experience; including lunch too!

Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukemia, myeloma or lymphoma and often a blood stem cell donation is the best- and sometimes the only treatment method to give someone a second chance at life. Only 2% of the population are registered as donors. Patients from BAME background have a 20% chance of finding a match, compared to 69% from northern European backgrounds. BAME donors only represent 13% of the 1.9 million donors on the registry.

My ask of you is if you are fit and able, I urge you to register. You may be someone’s perfect match and give someone a second chance at life. The process involves some basic information about you and a cheek swab sample and that is it you are registered. It is as easy as that!

I hope that if my loved ones are ever in the need of a stem cell donation a match would be easily found. And I hope the same for your loved ones too.

Abhishek Padmanabhuni

Abhishek Padmanabhuni currently lives in Austin, TX with his spouse Mounika and they have a 2 year old daughter Isha. Abhishek was born in Hyderabad, India and currently works as a Customer Success Manager for a startup called Snaplogic.

He was very fortunate and blessed to have the privilege to donate his stem cells to a recipient in Feb’21. Abhishek’s interest in BeTheMatch could happen due to a happenstance Rotary meeting he attended while he was living in the Bay Area. Abhishek learnt about BeTheMatch in Sep’20 and sent his swab in Nov’20. To everyone’s surprise he received a call from BeTheMatch informing that he was a potential donor in Jan’21. With a six month old at home and no COVID-19 vaccine then, he had a tough time to convince his family to participate in the stem cell donation. Fortunately with his family’s support he was able to move forward in the process and donated stem cells in Feb’21. Though he hasn’t met his recipient as of today, he is always content with the opportunity that he had, to help an individual and their family.

Both Abhishek and Mounika were recognized and awarded by Rotary Club of Silicon Andhra with Lifetime Honorary Rotary memberships for their selfless service. They both are forever grateful to BeTheMatch for making this possible.

Here is his donation video link-

Udaya Sajja

I remember everything that happened during the first days of my fight against cancer so vividly. I remember the feeling of being struck by utter confusion and despair the moment I was initially diagnosed. I remember the feeling of crying with my wife after I told her the news late that night. I remember feeling so
alone and lost, thousands of miles away from my extended family in India. Most of all, I remember the feeling of being drowned in uncertainty, questions racing through my mind as I wondered what would happen to me, my wife, and my kids. My wife and I spent that night on a call with my uncle and aunt, who were doctors in
India, to try and make a little sense of the situation we were in. They recommended that I get treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center and referred us to his friend, Dr. Jagannatha Sastry, for help getting an appointment.

Dr. Sastry graciously helped us and managed to get me an appointment at MDACC, making sure we were
in good hands
. In the next couple of days, my family packed our belongings and left for Houston for my treatment. On
my first day at MD Anderson, I was officially diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). When I met
my doctor, Dr. Deborah Thomas, I asked her the question that I couldn’t get out of my head: Was I going to
survive? She replied honestly. She would only know after my first cycle of chemotherapy.
My first cycle of chemotherapy was hellish. Initially, everything was fine, the chemotherapy worked, and I
was declared to be remission. That’s when I first experienced why chemotherapy was such a notorious
treatment. Days after my first chemo treatment, I contracted unbearable abdominal pain which felt more
painful by the second. The severity was so high, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I would make it through
the end of each day. After a few days, the doctors finally came back to me with an explanation: I had
intussusception — part of my intestine had been blocked by another part of my intestine. The solution?
Intubation and an entire week with no food or water by mouth to help drain my intestines of any food.
Thankfully, I was able to eventually recover from the first cycle in one piece. However, this was just the
beginning. Hemorrhoids in the second cycle, falling unconscious in the third… Each new cycle brought with it
new complications and struggles.
Outside of the hospital, there were other challenges. My wife, acting as the sole caretaker of me, our
nine-year-old son, and our one-year-old daughter, had to juggle trips to the hospital, looking after our kids,
and various household responsibilities, all while remaining brave and composed. Perhaps the only help we
received in Houston was from Dr. Sastry and his family, who, as part of the IACAN network, made it clear that
they were there for us. They cooked us meals, helped us find a new home in Houston, and were a constant
source of reassurance in times of desperation and isolation. The aid that Dr. Sastry’s family, as an extension of
IACAN, provided us is priceless, and words cannot describe how thankful we are for them. It brings me great
joy that the IACAN organization continues to help Indian-American cancer patients and families like mine
today — its work lends much-needed strength and support to those who need it the most.
Dr. Thomas and team decided to shorten the intensive therapy to six chemo cycles instead of the
originally planned eight cycles due to the complexities I had in each cycle. After my sixth cycle, I was told that I
was in full remission and that I would be in maintenance therapy for the next 30 months. I breathed a big sigh
of relief. We were through the worst part.
We moved back to Austin, and I started working full time again. By the end of the next 30 months of
maintenance therapy — which was riddled with frequent illness, IGG infusions, and numerous hospital and ER
visits — I learned to live with cancer. I learned to live beyond cancer. I had a newfound appreciation for all the
little things in life and enjoyed the moments I created with my wife and kids on a deeper level. While facing
cancer was never easy and felt downright impossible at times, the belief that I could fight cancer and the
determination that came with it has brought me to where I am today. Today, I am proud to say that I am a
cancer survivor.