Nine-year-old Khu is the youngest of six children and lives on her family’s farm in Burma.
“When Khu was a year old, she first developed jaundice, fever, and a distended abdomen,” our medical partner, Burma Border Projects (BBP), tells us. She was prescribed medicine from a local clinic to treat her symptoms, and at age six, she was diagnosed with thalassemia.
Thalassemia is a genetic condition in which the body does not make enough red blood cells, and the existing red blood cells do not transport oxygen efficiently. This is problematic because red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body’s organs. When an organ’s oxygen supply is inadequate, the organ cannot function properly, and symptoms such as fatigue, pallor (pale skin), and slow growth rates can result.
“Khu needs a blood transfusion every month, and if [she does not receive it], she becomes pale and tired,” explains BBP. “Khu no longer goes to school as her illness continually forces her to miss classes, and she falls behind the rest of the class.”
Khu also has an enlarged spleen—known as splenomegaly— which is common in individuals with thalassemia. The spleen is responsible for destroying old and defective red blood cells. In thalassemia, the rate of destruction is increased in response to the abnormal and transfused red blood cells in circulation, and the spleen grows larger due to the increased activity. “With thalassemia, a splenectomy [removal of the spleen] is often required to alleviate symptoms,” BBP continues.
The family’s farm work—growing rice, selling livestock, fishing, and collecting wild fruits and vegetables—provides sufficient income for their day-to-day expenses, but they can afford only the most basic medications for Khu.
For $1,015, Khu will undergo a splenectomy and receive seven days of hospital care and follow-up appointments after surgery. “Following the surgery,” says BBP, “Khu should be able to go back to school, and she will no longer need blood transfusions.”
“Hopefully, my girl can regain her health, return to school, and possibly become a medic in her future,” shares Khu’s mother.