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Alejandro, in his hospital rbed. SUR
Urgent appeal launched as ten-year-old boy with leukaemia in Malaga has just four weeks to find bone marrow donor
Health

Urgent appeal launched as ten-year-old boy with leukaemia in Malaga has just four weeks to find bone marrow donor

The family of Alejandro have also enlisted the help of the National Police force and Malaga CF football club in a bid to find someone compatible

Juan Cano

Malaga

Friday, 19 April 2024

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Alejandro, a 10-year-old boy from Malaga started doing sport almost as soon as he started walking. At the age of eight he was runner-up in a children's swimming tournament where the winner - they organised the competition according to technical level, not age - was two years older than him. He was a healthy child with parents who do not smoke, who look after their diet and exercise. Moreover, Alejandro never got sick.

Two years ago Alejandro had a temperature that would not go down even with medication. The fever was accompanied by petechiae; small spots of blood that appeared on his chin. At hospital he underwent a haemogram, after that he was admitted to.

As soon as the blood tests came back the paediatrician-oncologist on duty confirmed the diagnosis that Alejandro had leukaemia. Now he has been given four weeks to find a compatible bone marrow donor.

School

When Alejandro was first diagnosed with the disease his parents explained to him that "some bugs" had appeared and that he would have to stop going to school for a while until he recovered in hospital.

The first year he attended online classes and this year he was able to return to his school. "He was happy, it was nice for him to be able to come back and meet his classmates in the playground," recalls his mother, María Luisa.

But the "bugs" reappeared and Alejandro had to go back to hospital. Since January he has hardly attended any of his online classes. "The cancer itself doesn't hurt, but all the side effects do. That's why he doesn't miss sports so much (he used to do swimming, padel, tennis...), because it takes a lot out of you physically. The physio is helping him to regain mobility".

The daily challenge is to keep him entertained by doing crafts with the volunteers at the hospital while he and his family wait for news of a possible donor that "gets us out of this horrible tunnel we are in" says María Luisa.

Isolation

María Luisa has had to stop working for now. "We are now in isolation because his defences are at zero," she explains. Alejandro has a couple of weeks of recovery ahead of him after the penultimate cycle of chemo that has just finished; in total, including the last cycle, about four weeks -five being very optimistic- in which the doctors will finish preparing his body for the bone marrow transplant.

"It's like they were emptying him [at the cellular level] to try to trick his body and replace them with the donor's stem cells," María Luisa says graphically, explaining the process her son will undergo. "The first few months he would be like a baby and vulnerable to many things, but we would progress little by little."

The problem is that for the treatment to have sufficient guarantees of success, a 100 per cent compatible donor must be found. Something like your blood twin, who could be anywhere on the planet. And Alejandro hasn't found one yet. "Total compatibility is difficult to achieve because the average is 1/4000 of the world's population. We are looking for 100%, although 90% would be enough to try.

And the solution does not usually lie in the family. Parents are rarely more than 50% compatible and siblings are only compatible in 20% of cases. Alejandro is an only child. "We need urgent help" says María Luisa from the Maternity Hospital in Almeria, "we are finishing the procedure prior to the transplant - which will be done in Malaga - and we have very little time left to find a compatible donor".

María Luisa is from Almeria, where the family lives, and her husband, Alejandro's father, is from Malaga. Their respective circles in both provinces are all helping to find the person who can help the little boy. The National Police is involved as Alejandro's uncle is an officer.

Even Malaga CF football club has joined the "Te doy mi sangre blanquiazul" (I give you my blue and white blood) campaign, launched on Wednesday 17 April at Gate 8, in which a ticket is given to each fan who donates blood or bone marrow.

Pablo Ráez

Alejandro's mother wants to thank all the people who are collaborating and is calling to debunk myths - as did Pablo Ráez from Malaga, who left a legacy that still endures in the fight against this disease - about donation. "People look scared, but it is not dangerous. It is a simple process, just like having a blood test."

The only requirements, he reminds us, are to be between 18 and 40 years old, weigh more than 50 kilos and be healthy. "With a simple withdrawal of a few small tubes of blood, they study your compatibility. They can call you immediately, after a few years or never call you at all."

If a match is found, the donation process, known as apheresis, is very simple: another blood draw in a hospital setting. First, a drug is applied to draw the stem cells out of the bones and into the bloodstream, then they are removed from the donor and inserted into the recipient.

"You only spend one night in hospital because of the anaesthetic and then it's like having the flu: a week later it's business as usual," says María Luisa, who adds "although some people go to work the next morning." As stem cells regenerate, you can donate again as many times as you want.

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