The world’s first ‘saviour sibling,’ Adam Nash, was born in America in 2000, and now India has welcomed their own. Sweet baby Kavya Solanki is officially India’s first “saviour sibling.”
This means she is the first baby conceived for the purposed donating their cord blood or bone marrow to help an older sibling with a serious disease or disorder, such as thalassemia.
This process is far more in-depth than simply ‘trying to conceive’ a baby with the right genetic material. Saviour siblings are conceived via IVF after extensive testing for genetic disorders, and to ensure that their bone marrow is compatible.
Kavya was welcomed by Sahdev and Aparna Solanki, a Gujarat couple who both carried the genes for thalassemia
They already had one healthy daughter and a son, Abhijeet, who was diagnosed with thalassemia major. His quality of life was suffering greatly.
Poor Abhijeet underwent more than eighty blood transfusions before his sixth birthday. He was also subjected to chelation therapy to remove excess iron from his blood and prevent it from building up to dangerous levels. His body was becoming exhausted, and the treatments were painful. His future was also not so bright. Most thalassemia patients do not live much longer than their 30th year.
The only hope for a better life? A bone marrow transplant
Sadly, his older sister’s marrow was not a match. The Solankis did plenty of research and discovered the idea of a ‘saviour sibling.” They decided to go ahead with the help of Nova IVF, located in Ahmedabad. During their first cycle of IVF, the Solankis has 18 embryos created. Each one was subject to preimplantation genetic testing for monogenic disorders (PGT-M), as well as bone marrow compatibility.
One embryo was deemed perfect, and Aparna underwent implantation last year. It was a success! Little Kavya was born nine months later, completely healthy.
In most saviour sibling cases, doctors use the stem cells in the cord blood to treat the ailing sibling
However, in this case, the stem cells were not enough to help Abhijeet. Dr Deepa Trivedi, who is the programme director at the Sankalp-CIMS Bone Marrow Transplant Unit of CIMS hospital, explains.
“In non-cancer transplants we use stem cells from bone marrow as they are accepted better by the body. We waited till Kavya was of a basic minimum weight and then the transplant was performed in March this year.” The Sankalp India Foundation provided the Solankis with a discounted rate for the IVF and genetic testing, charging only Rs 9 lakh instead of Rs 15 lakh. The state government also provided 3 lakhs.
The doctors harvested 200ml of bone marrow from little Kavya and transfused it into Abhijeet. She experienced low haemoglobin for a short while, but this was treated with supplements. Now, Kavya and Abhijeet are thriving and healthy!
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