Phoenix teen in search of a donor match
Durban - Kyra Ramdin from Phoenix is 11 years old. She loves her dog Zeus more than anything, as well as horse riding, ice skating and reading. She also urgently needs to find a donor match for a blood cell stem transplant after being diagnosed with leukaemia, a blood cancer, in October.
Kyra's mother Michelle said the journey leading up to the diagnosis and the last five months, in which Kyra has been undergoing chemotherapy, had been difficult but the family was optimistic they could find a match.
“At the start of lockdown Kyra was fine, but around August, she became very moody and withdrawn and I put it down to being a pre-teen or perhaps the impact of Covid,” said Michelle on Thursday.
But then Kyra appeared to lose her appetite and when the pair went for a walk on the promenade in mid-September, Kyra had difficulty breathing.
“Due to Covid, it was difficult to get an appointment with a GP. At the beginning of October, Kyra went to school and completed her maths paper. When she came home she didn’t even want to eat the takeaway I had bought as a treat. She just slept and when she woke up, she looked like a skeleton and was pale as a ghost,” said Michelle, who went online to find a doctor whose surgery was open and could schedule an urgent appointment.
“It was a Friday afternoon, it was raining so hard and I found Dr Pillay in Phoenix,” said Michelle, who took Kyra for blood tests that Saturday. On the Sunday morning, she received a call to return to the doctor's rooms, where she was told her daughter had leukaemia, a life-threatening blood cancer.
“The doctor was sitting there with tears in his eyes as he told me that my baby was sick and she had leukaemia. It was like a movie where someone is talking but I couldn’t hear anything. I was crying and just saying no, no, no. Getting that diagnosis, I felt as though I was walking in the wilderness,” said Michelle.
By Monday morning, Kyra was in hospital in an intensive care unit where she started her induction treatment, the start of a six-month treatment.
After four days in intensive care, she moved to a normal ward, where she stayed for 33 days with Michelle staying with her. Kyra requires a blood stem cell transplant and siblings are tested first to see if they are possible donor matches.
“Our younger daughter, Azaria, who is seven, was praying that she would be a match. She was tested in February, but she’s not a match,” said Michelle.
She said Kyra has been in and out of hospital for chemotherapy treatment and when home, she had to have a spotlessly clean environment because her immune system remained low. This was particularly important as the country remains in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Kyra is currently in hospital undergoing her fifth round of treatment.
“Kyra loves animals and her dream has been to be a vet since she was small. When she’s back from hospital she's not even allowed to play with her dog Zeus. He’s so lovely and knows when she’s around, she stands at the door and tells him she can’t come outside.
“On Tuesday, I told her to write down a list of what she wants to do when she comes out of hospital and at the top of her list was to play with Zeus, and then to go horse-riding and ice-skating,” said Michelle.
The family turned to DKMS Africa (formerly the Sunflower Fund) to find a donor match who will have to be of a similar ethnic background to Kyra, as a blood stem cell match is based on genetics and DNA.
Michelle said: “It has been a stressful time and we have already done drives to find a match. Kyra has been very positive and says when this is over, she wants to become an ambassador to help other people find a donor match.
“I've learned so much on this journey and I’ve become a stronger person. We have had such support from our church, our friends, neighbours and colleagues. We didn’t know how much people cared until now," she said, urging Durban communities to sign up as donors to create a diverse ethnic database to save lives, not only for Kyra but for anyone desperately looking for a match.
The Sunflower Fund announced this week that the organisation had formed an historic amalgamation with DKMS in an effort to build an ethnically diverse registry that is representative of all people of African and mixed ethnic descent, thereby becoming DKMS Africa.
DKMS is an international NGO with 30 years experience in fighting blood cancer with a presence in seven countries on five continents. It has 10.5 million registered donors with one of the most diverse donor pools in the world.
This week, DKMS CEO Dr Elke Neujahr said: “A donor match could come from anywhere in the world, so it is important that we expand our international reach. For a second chance we cross borders, collaborate globally and leave no stone unturned to help patients.”
DKMS Africa country executive director Alana James said the new partnership had hugely boosted its capacity.
“Everyone has a unique tissue typing/DNA and people of African origin are severely under-represented on the global database.
“In that respect, South Africa’s rainbow nation is at a distinct disadvantage, requiring a large pool of prospective donors,” said James.
To test whether you are a donor match requires a simple swab of your mouth. To find out more about becoming a donor, go to www.dkms-africa.org
The Independent on Saturday