Baby girl undergoes bone marrow transplant from sister, 8, in Abu Dhabi

Doctors at Burjeel Medical City perform surgery on little Afeefa after finding sibling's stem cells match

Nazia, 8, donated bone marrow to her nine-month-old baby sister Afeefa. Photo: Burjeel Medical City
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Doctors in Abu Dhabi have saved the life of a nine-month-old baby girl battling a type of cancer that affected her blood and bone marrow.

Afeefa Zahra Muhammad Iqbal was suffering acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

She underwent surgery at Burjeel Medical City after it was found that her blood cells were a match with her sister Nazia, 8.

The girls' Pakistani parents Muhammad Iqbal and Batool Zahra, UAE residents for the past 10 years, said their daughter was only three months old when she started to experience prolonged fever and look pale.

After a blood test showed abnormalities, the couple took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which can progress quickly without treatment.

"Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is one of the common cancers in children, but it needs to be treated aggressively,” said Dr Zainul Aabideen, an oncologist at Burjeel Medical City.

Baby Afeefa with her father and the team at Burjeel Medical City. Photo: Burjeel Medical City

“The advanced genetic test revealed that a high risk of a genetic mutation was driving this leukaemia. As per the international protocol, the only chance to cure her disease was through bone marrow transplantation," said Dr Aabideen.

Doctors identified Nazia as a matching donor, and the third grader was more than happy to help her sister.

"I was sad when the doctors told me my little sister was very sick," said Nazia.

"I felt happy when my parents told me I could help her get better.

"I was a brave girl, and was not afraid. Afeefa is like my twin sister now."

The highly advanced bone marrow transplant was conducted on December 1. Afeefa was then kept under strict medical attention to monitor her body's response to the new cells.

Baby Afeefa recovers after her bone marrow transplant at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Burjeel Medical City

In the days after the procedure, she experienced complications including seizures and infections in her bloodstream but they were successfully managed by the medical team looking after her. Her health and prognosis improved steadily.

Afeefa's parents said their entire life was changed by the successful surgery.

“We now feel like a huge struggle has been over after months of suffering and pain,” said Mr Iqbal.

"I also want to mention my wife, who observed our child round the clock and alerted the medical team even if there was the slightest change in her.

"Her commitment to Afeefa has also played a part in the healing process."

Prof Humaid Al Shamsi, a consultant at Burjeel, said the team that treated Afeefa were satisfied that she could now return to the care of her family.

"The entire team at Burjeel Medical City is thrilled that baby Afeefa has overcome all odds and is now finally discharged home," he said.

"The success of the bone marrow procedure in a patient so young offers hope to more children in need of such care. The procedure demonstrates our capabilities and expertise in bone marrow transplant. We are proud of this new milestone.”

Updated: January 28, 2023, 9:50 AM