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Almost immediately after Zainab Mughal learned to walk, she started running. She had to keep up with her three older brothers and cousins. If they’d jump from couch to couch, the girl followed. While she loved tumbling and wrestling with her brothers, she was also sweet, always listening to her parents and always read to give a hug.
But that all changed when she was about 20 months old.
“She became a little more stubborn. She started eating less,” her father, Raheel Mughal, told TODAY. “She would not play with other kids.”
Mughal’s wife Mariam Mehmood worried that this change meant something was wrong with Zainab. They went to the doctor who reassured them that sometimes children’s appetites change around 2 years old. The family relaxed a little, but still wondered if something was amiss.
“She was losing her weight. She was not active. She don't want to play,” Mehmood told TODAY. “I thought something is going wrong inside.”
After some testing, the Mughals learned some startling news: Zainab has neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops along sympathetic nerves, often in the abdomen or torso in children.
“We were completely destroyed,” Mughal said. “We started crying.”
When doctors gave Zainab a blood transfusion as part of her treatment something went terribly wrong. Her eyes and hands became swollen and she spiked a fever. She began scratching herself and complaining of itching. That’s when doctors made another discovery: Zainab is missing an antigen in her blood, Indian B, and she needs blood from donors who have the same mutation, or she will become ill.
“Not only are you dealing with cancer but blood issue,” Mughal said. “It was just unbelievable.”
Fewer than 4 percent of donors tested are missing this antigen, according to OneBlood, a nonprofit that provides blood products to hospitals in Florida, parts of Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Only people who are 100 percent Pakistani, Indian or Iranian carry this mutation and can help Zainab. After her first blood transfusion led to a bad reaction, OneBlood has been helping find blood for Zainab.
Since raising awareness of Zainab's health crisis, people around the world have been contacting OneBlood to help her.
“So far we've identified three (people), two donors in the United States and one donor was identified in the United Kingdom,” said Frieda Bright, Immunogimetology Reference Lab Manager at OneBlood, told TODAY.
Ideally, they’d like to have about 10 donors to supply the blood that Zainab needs during her cancer treatment.
“Zainab is going through some treatment that over the course of time she will be required to be supported fully by blood products,” Bright explained.
Donors can donate blood every 56 days and blood remains good for about 35 days. That’s why it is important to have a steady stable of donors for Zainab.
“She's getting ready to go through the next stage of her treatment,” Bright said. “We need to be prepared to support her with blood.”
The Mughals feel overwhelmed by the support.
“I just want to say, thank you,” Mehmood said. “Nobody can feel our pain.”
Mughal agrees and said already they’re seeing a change in their daughter.
“She's playing. She's talking and all that and that's when it felt like, OK, she's getting better,” he said. “She means everything to us and she is the princess of the family. Everybody loves her.”
If you live within OneBlood's service area, enter your zip code on this page to find your donation center. When you go to the OneBlood center, be sure to specify to staff that you're there to donate for Zainab so they can mark your donation for testing.