The nine-year-old bright-eyed Zara lights up a room with her friendly chatter and giggles. Her dark locks and cute smile instantly endears her even to a stranger. Like any close-knit British Indian family, Vikas and Taruna Kundra cherish their precious gifts in the form of Zara and her seven-year-old younger brother.
Tragically, around two-and-a-half years ago, Zara was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a type of blood cancer. She did bravely fight off the terrible disease. The , however, came back last month. And this time around, it has taken on an aggressive form.
Zara has to go without food for days and rely on an intravenous nutrition line. Because of the chemotherapy, her white blood cells and immunity are deficient, making her poorly with fever, vomiting, and constant pain.
A quick scroll through some of her recent social media images reflects just how rapidly the cancer is taking a toll on her tiny body. Her long braids have borne the brunt of several doses of chemo, although her infectious smile and that twinkle in her eyes remain unfazed. Zara is bravely and smilingly fighting cancer back while waiting patiently for a bone marrow transplant. Hence this appeal to potential donors out there.
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"We were told that because it's a relapse, only chemo would not be sufficient this time around. And Zara needs a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible," Vikas Kundra told iGlobal.
"Unfortunately, within the Asian community, there's a huge lack of awareness in this regard. We talked to many people in India, the UK, and the US. People are not aware of it; people don't know its importance. It is, in fact, quite easy to register, and if matched, you would be saving someone's life - Zara's life or any other patient's life.
“So, we are appealing to everyone, especially the Asian community, as there's an increased chance of tissue match within the same ethnic group."
The Kundra family has been based in Basingstoke, southern England, for many years now. They both hail from Punjab – Vikas from Jalandhar and Taruna's from Ludhiana. Like many from the Indian diaspora, the family doesn't have any relatives here in the UK.
Taruna is a successful digital operations professional with Eon but has since left her job to be able to spend as much time as possible with Zara during her battle with cancer. Vikas, a solutions consultant in an oil and gas engineering company, is also contemplating pausing his professional life.
"Family is the only priority right now," he said.
The number of donors on the UK's stem cell registry fell by 62 per cent from 2019 to 2021, according to the DKMS, part of the registered charity DKMS Foundation.
The organisation, which has registered over 857,000 blood stem cell donors in the country, says the saw numbers decline sharply, by 28 per cent in 2020 and 47 per cent in 2021. With someone diagnosed with blood cancer every 20 minutes in the UK, around 2,000 people are searching for their lifesaver at any one time.
But that's not the most worrying fact. As per reports, currently, only 2 per cent of the UK population are registered as potential blood stem cell donors, and just 13 per cent of those on the register come from South Asian ethnicity.
Therefore, patients from those communities have a much lower chance of finding a matching blood stem cell donor.
British Indians are, in fact, more than twice as likely to not find a stem blood donor than the white population in the UK.
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There are two different ways to donate blood stem cells: peripheral stem cell donation and bone marrow donation. While peripheral stem cell donation is much like an intravenous blood donation, bone marrow donation might be a little more invasive.
However, as DKMS explains on their website, the organisation undertakes all costs and absolute for the donor.
Only a little bravery and a will to do greater good can save a patient's life. It is, after all, a great act of kindness that money can't buy.