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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Bone marrow match found for Qatar doctor’s daughter Zara

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Zara Al Shaikh
Zara Al Shaikh

Following a worldwide campaign, a bone marrow match has been found for a Qatar-based doctor’s daughter who has leukemia.

Zara Al Shaikh, 13, announced the news of the successful match on Twitter yesterday, and paid tribute to the thousands of people internationally who registered as potential stem cell donors.

In a post on the campaign’s Facebook page earlier this week, Zara’s UK-based mother, Kerensa Al Shaikh, said the successful match is “international”.

“The amazing news is we have a donor. We have a 9 out of 10 match from an international donor.

We are so grateful to this amazing person for helping Zara and grateful to every one of you who has signed up to a bone marrow register. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I don’t want to jinx it but all looks like it will happen in May. Keep praying for us and keep everything crossed for a smooth transplant process,” Al Shaikh said.

Zara was first diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a rare blood cancer, two years ago. After undergoing chemotherapy and falling into remission, her cancer progressed and she needs a bone marrow transplant to survive.

She is currently undergoing chemotherapy in London “to keep the disease at bay while we wait for a transplant,” her mother said.

Zara Al Shaikh
Zara Al Shaikh

Her Arabic-English heritage means that her tissue type is rare, and so her father Dr. Loua Al Shaikh – a senior clinician at Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) – launched a global campaign to find her a matching blood stem cell donor.

In February, HMC held a week of screenings at its blood donor unit in central Doha, and encouraged volunteers, particularly those who shared Zara’s heritage, to attend.

News of the campaign to find a match for Zara quickly went viral, with the hashtag #Match4Zara, with her first post getting shared more than 12,000 times within days of it going live.

Transplants in Qatar

HMC has a bone marrow transplantation unit as part of its National Center for Cancer Care & Research (NCCCR).

Last last year, HMC announced that a specialist team at the center had successfully carried out the country’s first stem cell transplants on two patients who had an aggressive form of blood cancer.

Stem cell transplant patient and HMC staff
Stem cell transplant patient and HMC staff

These two patients had autologous transplants, where healthy stem cells are harvested from their own bodies then replanted.

The NCCCR is reportedly making plans to set up a bone marrow donor registry in Qatar by this summer. This would permit a different type of stem cell transplant in which healthy bone marrow is harvested from others and transplanted into the affected patient.

Known as allogeneic transplant, this procedure involves healthy individuals volunteering to be on the registry to donate their own bone marrow, which is stored and then – if a match is found – can be used to treat patients.

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