Emirati baby's life saved thanks to bone marrow transplant from pregnant grandmother

Girl suffered from rare disease that attacks brain cells

Baby Fatima is pictured with her father Suliman and the medical team following her life-saving surgery. Photo: ADSCC
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Doctors in Abu Dhabi successfully performed life-saving surgery on a baby with a rare genetic condition aided by a transplant from the girl's pregnant grandmother.

Baby Fatima was only three months old when she received the transplant after being diagnosed with Krabbe disease, a condition that attacks brain cells and severely reduces life expectancy.

This was the first case of the disease treated in the UAE, according to officials from the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre (ADSCC).

The issue was compounded when both her grandmothers, who were positive matches for the bone marrow transplant, turned out to be pregnant, despite being in their forties.

"We started by testing the entire family to find a matching donor," said consultant hematologist Dr David Dennison.

"The parents were not a match, but among the several other relatives tested, only the fraternal and paternal grandmothers were found to be matching.

"They were also both pregnant at the time which was a surprising turn of events.

"These weren’t your conventional grandmothers; they were young, in their early forties and active."

The procedure took place in September but the details were kept under wraps until young Fatima's recovery was confirmed.

The transplant, he said, was key as it would create a lifelong supply of the enzyme needed for baby Fatima's body to protect her against the impact of Krabbe disease, which is said to only affect one out of every 100,000 people.

There is no cure, the only option is to slow its progression through a bone-marrow transplant.

"The next question was how far along they were in their pregnancies," said Dr Dennison.

No time to spare

The transplant needed to happen as soon as possible and especially before Fatima turned three months old, as the disease is generally said to be fatal in younger patients but its progression can be stalled if caught in time.

"The maternal grandmother was in her third trimester, so we collaborated with Corniche Hospital to deliver the baby at 37 weeks of pregnancy via C-section," said Dr Mansi Sachdev, consultant paediatric hematologist.

"The bone marrow collection happened at the same time of delivery.

"Corniche hospital doctors delivered the baby and then our ADSCC doctors extracted the bone marrow immediately after in the same operating theatre and under the same anaesthesia."

Fatima's grandmother, who asked not to be named, underwent the bone marrow transplant on the same day as giving birth and said the latter was more painful.

“I barely felt it when they extracted the bone marrow," she said.

"It felt so great to be able to help both my daughter and my granddaughter at the same time and, above all that, I had a newborn baby in my arms.

"It was a day of blessings.”

Fatima's mother, who also asked not to be named, said the family was initially resigned to having no choice but to travel abroad until the ADSCC stepped in.

“We all weren’t keen on travelling for treatment but were going to if it was a necessity," she said.

"I’m grateful that the treatment was available here in the UAE at ADSCC."

Dr Sachdev said the entire experience was an amazing journey for everyone involved.

“From the moment they came to finding the donor and then up to the actual transplant," she said.

"It was a journey of miracles that at one point felt like a movie."

Like all the best dramas there was a happy ending as well, with Fatima expected to lead a full and normal life.

Updated: May 04, 2024, 11:07 AM