A four-year-old girl who was given just three weeks to live after a bruise on her leg turned out to be cancer has found a potentially life-saving stem cell donor.
Esha Nadeswaran, from Gants Hill, east London, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) on May 13 and spent 15 weeks at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
But Esha and her family were told less than two weeks ago that her two intensive cycles of chemotherapy had been ineffective and she needed to find a stem cell donor with the right genetic match within three weeks.
Her family – including her father Rishya, mother Kavitha, older sister Ria and aunt Lavanya – appealed for help from the South Asian community to help Esha fight the life-threatening disease, because donors of her ethnicity are rare on the registry.
On Tuesday evening, 12 days after they received the devastating news, Esha’s family revealed that a matching donor had been found for the four-year-old, who is of Sri Lankan heritage.
Esha Nadeswaran (pictured), from Gants Hill, east London, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) on May 13 and spent 15 weeks at Great Ormond Street Hospital
Sharing the heartwarming news on Instagram, they said: ‘We have some positive news to share with you! A matching donor has been found for Esha.
‘We are yet to learn more details about this development, but we wanted to immediately share this news with all of you who have made this possible for us.
‘Your continuous show of support and love, in addition to those who have since registered to become a stem cell donor, has been one of the main driving forces for us as a family.
‘You have enabled us to push hard every single day for the last 12 days since we found out the devastating news.’
The procedure will involve doctors giving Esha new stem cells through her bloodstream, which will then grow to form healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets to cure her AML.
But her family said despite a donor being found, they will continue to campaign until September 20 as they initially planned in case they can find someone who is a closer match to Esha.
They also stressed that Esha still has a ‘long journey’ ahead which involves undergoing ‘high-risk procedures with no guaranteed successful outcome’.
The post continued: ‘Despite finding a match for Esha, we as a family will continue to campaign until Monday 20th September as initially planned and will be adding more events to our current roster.
But Esha and her family were told less than two weeks ago that the two intensive cycles of chemotherapy had been ineffective and she needed to find a stem cell donor in three weeks
But her family stressed that Esha still has a ‘long journey’ ahead which involves undergoing ‘high-risk procedures with no guaranteed successful outcome’
‘Finding someone who is a closer match to Esha would be our priority, however we also feel compelled to share the message of how important it is to sign up as a donor.
‘You never know whose life you could save from just a simple 5 minute swab test and if we can help others who find themselves in a similar position to us, then that would be the very least we could do.
‘This is just the first step in the right direction of a very long journey ahead. Esha still has to undergo several high-risk procedures with no guaranteed successful outcome.
What is acute myeloid leukaemia?
Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood that starts in the bone marrow and spreads into the blood stream, and is extremely rare in children of Esha’s age.
Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Acute leukaemia means it progresses quickly and aggressively, and usually requires immediate treatment.
It’s not clear exactly what causes AML and, in most cases, there’s no identifiable cause.
AML is a rare type of cancer, with around 3,100 people diagnosed with it each year in the UK.
The risk of developing AML increases with age. It’s most common in people over 75.
Treatment for AML needs to begin as soon as possible, as it can develop quickly.
Chemotherapy is the main treatment for AML. It’s used to kill as many leukaemia cells in your body as possible and reduce the risk of the condition coming back (relapsing).
In some cases, intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be needed, in combination with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
‘We are praying that with everyone’s help, Esha can get through to the other side and be back home with her loved ones leading a normal life one day in the near future.
‘We as a family have received an overwhelming number of messages from people who have followed Esha’s journey due to an unexplainable connection they have formed with her from what they have seen or experienced online.
‘Consequently, we shall be continuing to document and walk you through the next few months of Esha’s progress. We believe it is extremely important that all of you who have shown Esha love and support are equally as part of the journey as us, Esha’s family.
‘We ask and pray that you continue to support & share the message of Esha’s journey to help us bring Esha home! Thank you.’
In a follow-up Instagram post, Esha’s family explained that in other cases, several donor matches have been needed to ensure a successful stem cell transplant.
They continued to urge people from the South Asian community to go to their swab test drop-ins to be tested and see if they are a match for Esha.
They said: ‘In previous cases, similar to Esha, several donor matches are needed to ultimately ensure a successful stem cell transplant.
‘One is simply not enough. This is why, as a family, we still urge you to come to our swab test drop-ins.
This is just one small step towards the right direction ,however we still need your help!
‘Thank you to everyone who has supported us and who continue to support us on this journey.’
Despite Esha being diagnosed with the life-threatening disease on May 13, her family only found out at the start of September that she needed a stem cell donor within three weeks.
South Asians are heavily underrepresented in the registry and it is much more difficult for patients with a diverse ethnic heritage to find a matching donor.
Esha’s father Rishya Nadeswaran, 44, previously said finding a donor for Esha was her ‘last chance’ after her two rounds of chemotherapy failed to work.
He said: ‘We only found out last week that we need a donor because her first two cycles of chemotherapy have not worked.
On Tuesday, 12 days after they received the devastating news, her family revealed a matching donor was found for Esha (pictured in hospital), who is of Sri Lankan heritage
‘Generally, ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the bone marrow registry.
”Our aim is to try and get as many people as possible signed up during these weeks.
‘If we do get a good turnout, and a match can be found, we can have a better population to choose from.
‘Members of my family are hosting sign up events on our behalf throughout London.’
Mr Nadeswaran stressed that time was ‘of the essence’ to find a donor for Esha, as the process itself takes a few weeks, and then further checks have to be carried out.
He continued: ‘I want to stress the urgency of trying to find a donor. The process itself takes a few weeks and even if you are able to register on the bone marrow registry, you have to be sent a swab kit and sent it back.
‘Once the hospital can confirm that there is match, there are subsequent checks that have to be carried out.
‘They have to check that the potential donor does not have any underlying medical diseases. Time is of the essence. This is Esha’s last chance. It’s a harsh reality.’
Mr Nadeswaran has praised Esha’s character throughout her diagnosis and treatment, calling her a ‘caring’ and ‘loving child’.
He added: ‘She always brings a smile to people’s faces, very bubbly and cheerful.
‘She has had to deal with a lot of unpleasant medical procedures which have been very hard on her physically and emotionally.
‘Throughout it all she has managed to fighting on and keep her smile on her face. She is inspiring to us for what she has gone through as a four-year-old.’
The wider family have set up a website for Esha where they paid tribute to her, saying: ‘She’s a sassy, intelligent, funny and caring girl who puts a smile on those around her.
Her family – including her father Rishya, mother Kavitha, older sister Ria (all pictured) and aunt Lavanya -asked for help from the South Asian community as donors of her ethnicity are rare
‘Esha deserves a long and healthy life and a stem cell match would change her life.
‘There is someone out there who might be the match that we are praying for.
‘The procedure to donate stem cells is non-invasive and takes less than 2 minutes to sign up for.’
How do stem cell donor matches work?
For a transplant to take place, the patient needs to have a donor whose tissue type matches theirs. Matching is based on the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. A patient’s HLA is part of what makes you ‘you’ – individual genetic characteristics.
The patient is tested to see if they are positive for cytomegalovirus (or CMV for short) – a very common virus that often has no side effects. Ideally, a donor would tests the same for this virus as the patient.
The age of the donor is also considered as research confirmed that transplants are generally more successful when younger donors are selected.
Patients are more likely to find a matching donor from someone with a similar ethnic background because our HLA tissue types are inherited – although it’s possible to be a donor for someone of any ethic background.
Source: Anthony Nolan
On finding out about Esha’s diagnosis her aunt, Lavanya, who is a doctor, said: ‘It was awful, there aren’t the words to explain how it felt.
‘After Esha had her blood tests we had a feeling that something wasn’t right but as a family you never think this would happen to you.
‘This is a very stressful and worrying time for us. We have been told there is a very short time frame to find our little Esha a match.
‘We are heartbroken to see the suffering that she must endure and would give anything to take her pain away.
‘Esha has missed out on so much the last few months. She was due to start reception but unfortunately is missing lots of firsts.
‘We really want to encourage the South Asian and minority ethnic population of the UK to consider joining the Anthony Nolan register because they can really make a difference.’
According to Anthony Nolan, 75 per cent of UK patients won’t find a matching donor in their families, while people from minority ethnic backgrounds have a mere 37 per cent chance of finding the best match from a stranger.
Henny Braund MBE, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, called for people aged 16-30 from South Asian backgrounds to join the register to help Esha and others like her.
He said: ‘After being told that you need a lifesaving transplant it can be devastating to be told that there is no matching stem cell donor for you or a loved one.
‘My heart goes out to Esha as her family awaits news and Anthony Nolan will support them every step of the way.
‘Nobody should be told that, because of their ethnicity, there is less likely to be a matching stem cell donor for them.’
The family are urging people to join the registry where a swab can check if somebody is a suitable match.
Esha’s family also organised drop-in testing events around temples in London. More information can be found at for-esha.squarespace.com.