DKMS interview with Maheer and Chirag from India
Deeply grateful and highly motivated to help others
Maheer is from Ahmedabad in India and was diagnosed with leukemia as a child. His life depended on a stem cell transplant. His lifesaver was Dr Sita Arjune, from Cologne, who didn’t think twice about helping when she found out she was needed as a stem cell donor. That was a few years ago, and today Maheer is a teenager with a bright future to look forward to. Speaking to the DKMS team in India, he and his father look back over the last few years and describe fond memories of their first meeting with Sita. It happened in 2016 at a major donor-recipient meetup marking the 25th anniversary of DKMS in Berlin. Since then a cordial international friendship has developed.
On May 28, 2021 DKMS will celebrate its 30th anniversary. So we want to say ‘thank you’ and to shine a light on all the people in so many countries who have supported us over the years. A special thank-you goes to people like Maheer, his father Chirag, and his lifesaver Sita, who all have personal links to blood cancer and represent the more than 10.6 million registered donors and over 90,000 second chances at life organized by our seven DKMS sites around the world.
Maheer, Chirag, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Five years after we first met, at the DKMS’s silver jubilee celebration, it’s a pleasure to talk to you again. Maheer, how are you feeling nowadays?
Absolutely fine. Today I feel amazing, happy, and full of life. I feel the happiness and importance of life.
Do you remember the day of your transplant operation?
Yes, I do remember. Actually, at that time I was very young so I didn’t know what was happening, or why. There was so much anxiety, and my parents were so worried. Everyone was tense, worrying constantly, and immersed in their thoughts. Everyone was crying. I didn’t understand the situation at that time, but I knew something was wrong, as my father kept on motivating me. He said there was an issue with my blood but that it would all be sorted. After the transplant, everyone felt much happier. They all thanked God and the donor. It was like having a new life.
Chirag, when did you find out your son had blood cancer – and how?
It was November 2009 when Maheer was first diagnosed with leukemia. Then, as per the protocol, he was on chemotherapy for the next two-and-a-half years, which practically ended in June 2012. But then, after 2 months, he relapsed and a bone marrow transplant was the only option. It happened in November 2012, and our thanks goes to his donor and DKMS Germany.
What did you think when you found out your son needed a stem cell transplant?
My only concern was how to get a donor, as it’s very difficult to get the same HLA-type donor. In India stem cell donation was at a nascent stage – it still is, in fact – so my biggest worry was how to get the cells. Time was crucial, and if we couldn’t organize a transplant in time, the end result was very clear. I was feeling terrible about it.
Do you remember the day of the transplant? How did it feel?
Yes, I do remember. I was very nervous on that day. Before the transplant day, the countdown started, like “four, three…”. On the day the transplant was supposed to happen, I was very curious and in fact praying to God, “Please save my son!” and “Please take care of everything!” God heard me, thankfully. The procedure started at the specified time, and afterwards I thanked God, our donor, and the entire medical team, and I went to temple to express my gratitude.
How did it feel to meet your donor, Sita, for the first time?
It was the most wonderful meeting. Her entire family and I met personally. Whenever I visit Germany on a business trip, I meet her. She is the most wonderful and amazing person, I find. She works in medicine herself, and we are in regular contact. I have invited her to visit India, and we intend to be the perfect hosts.
What does Sita mean to you and your family?
Sita is part of our family and we are indebted to her, for this life at least. Maheer is alive only because of her. We must have shared some cosmic connections, as its almost unimaginable to think someone from Germany would donate her stem cells to a needy boy from India. But thanks to DKMS, it happened. I have to say, DKMS is doing a great job. Sita is a saviour – and I really mean that. We now share a lifelong relationship, and we respect and love her from the heart. She is a wonderful human being and we wish her good luck.
What would you like for Maheer?
I really wish him good health and a bright future. I want him to be a good human being and help mankind. He wants to be a scientist and cure cancer. I hope he can do that. He has my lifetime blessings and love, being my son, and I am always proud of him for being a fighter so far.
Maheer, do you sometimes still think about the time you came to Germany and joined our event in Berlin?
Yes, of course I remember the time when I was in Germany. It was a great pleasure for me to be in Germany, a wonderful experience, and my first visit to the country. It also gave me the chance to meet my donor, Sita. I was very happy to meet her.
Tell us a bit more about yourself. Do you have any hobbies or favorite subjects at school? Do you have any plans and wishes for the future?
My particular hobbies are to know more about science, particularly about genetics and hematology. I also enjoy listening to music, playing with friends, and travelling. I enjoy science as a subject in school and want to become a genetic engineer and haematologist, and to wipe out all the diseases by finding cures.
What’s your experience of the Covid pandemic at the moment?
This year was very difficult. We couldn’t meet everyone as we usually do. The coronavirus has caused a lot of destruction. It is still here, but now everything has started to become more normal. Hopefully the vaccine will sort out the pandemic.
Do you have a message you’d like to share? About how people can help in the fight against blood cancer, maybe?
Yes, I do have a message for people. The only reason I am breathing, alive, and talking is because there are transplants. Many people don’t get involved because they don’t realize how important it is. Life is a thing none of us can by, not for all the money in the world. If you save someone’s life, it’s the greatest act in the world. Your little donation could save a life and is the only way for many people right now. So please donate. It’s completely safe. Please save a life. You might think it’s a small thing, but it saves lives. Please don’t believe in rumours, just donate to save a life.
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