A Shot at Lifehttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/a-shot-at-life/

A Shot at Life

Suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia,Swarit Khandelwal is keeping his spirits high

Suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia,Swarit Khandelwal is keeping his spirits high

In the past one year,three-and-a-half-year-old Swarit Khandelwal has endured a series of daily injections apart from 19 chemotherapy sessions. Following a two hour surgery,he is strapped to an IV line that is attached to a probe fitted on his chest. In and out of hospital,the toddler,who has barely attended three days of kindergarten,suffers from blood cancer that has relapsed twice. He is now facing another crucial eight-day period for the new protocol of treatment to work.

Born in the US in July 2009,Swarit was detected with blood cancer in April last year. “Six months after he was born,we completed our assignment and returned to Pune,” says 33-year-old Prakhar Khandelwal,who is working with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). His wife Shalini,also a software professional with TCS,is yet to come to terms with the fact that her son is suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL),a cancer of the white blood cells.

Running from pillar to post to ensure that their child survives,Shalini recalls how Swarit had high fever for more than a month and was finally detected with ALL. Till early January,he had already undergone 19 chemotherapy sessions but on January 13 he suffered a relapse. “The relapse protocol treatment was followed and we admitted him at Ruby Hall Clinic’s cancer centre from January 25 till February 4. He was again admitted from February 14 till March 12 but the relapse protocol treatment did not work. We even wrote to doctors at St Jude Hospital and Research Centre in the US urging them to treat the child because he is a US citizen. We have been communicating with them via mail and they have advised another treatment protocol,” says Prakhar.

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According to the Khandelwals till date they have spent over Rs 20 lakh and while TCS employees have helped raise some funds,the family has also dried up almost all its savings.

Dr Vijay Ramanan,clinical haematologist and bone marrow transplant surgeon at Ruby Hall Clinic,says ALL is the most common type of cancer in children. Normally,WBCs help fight infection and protect the body against diseases. But in case of leukemia,WBCs turn cancerous and multiply when they shouldn’t,resulting in too many abnormal WBCs,which then interfere with organ function. If too many lymphoblasts (a certain type of WBC) are produced,a child will develop acute lymphoblastic,or lymphoid,leukemia (ALL). This is the most common type of childhood leukemia,affecting about 75 per cent of children. Children between two and eight years old are more likely to be affected,but all age groups can develop ALL,says Ramanan. Admitting that there are cases of relapse despite improved therapy,he adds,“We are trying our best.”

But,for the Khandelwals,each day is crucial and at times when they break down,it is little Swarit who wipes their tears and tells them not to worry. “We feel so helpless. Doctors have been helpful but the treatment is so limited. Costs are exorbitant abroad. Even if my child responds to this protocol of treatment he has to undergo a bone marrow transplant to fully recover.

Sadly there is no matching donor,” says Prakhar.

Meanwhile,little Swarit pulls him closer and tells him to watch an episode of Chhota Bheem on TV,pray to Lord Krishna and forget all their troubles.