Taipei, Nov. 5 (CNA) — An Indonesian migrant worker who received a stem cell transplant in Taiwan in June thanked the nation on Thursday for expediting her treatment by lifting travel restrictions for her family amid COVID-19 thereby facilitating the operation that saved her life.
At a press conference that day to celebrate being discharged from the hospital, 23-year-old Nina Herlina thanked Taiwan for giving her a new lease of life and said her treatment was a testament to Taiwan's healthcare capabilities. In November last year, Nina began suffering from bouts of menorrhagia that lasted for about 20 days and came with symptoms that included dizziness, tiredness, and fever.
In February, she turned to the Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA), a local NGO that promotes migrant workers' rights when she was fired, shortly after a doctor diagnosed her as suffering from aplastic anemia, an autoimmune disease in which the bone marrow stops making new blood cells. With the help of the TIWA, the young woman was allowed to remain in Taiwan, where she had worked as a caregiver since October 2018.
In March, she was confirmed as having severe aplastic anemia, requiring an allogeneic stem cell transplant to treat the disease, according to the TIWA. However, at that time the COVID-19 pandemic was worsening and Nina's family were in rural Indonesia and local medical institutions lacked the technology and techniques to identify a donor in time for a bone marrow transplant.
At that time she was being kept alive in Taiwan by weekly blood transfusions. However, frequent blood transfusions can have a detrimental effect on the success of a transplant.
In addition, she also had leukopenia, a condition when a person has a reduced number of white blood cells, which increases the risk of infection. As a result, doctors at Taipei Veterans General Hospital (TVGH) determined the patient was in urgent need of a transplant, according to TIWA.
With the assistance of TIWA, a TVGH medical team explained the condition to Herlina and her family members in Indonesia via video calls. Doctors said the healthy cells for the transplant should ideally come from a family member, making her two younger sisters, aged 5 and 14, the best candidates for the operation, TIWA said.
Based on humanitarian considerations, the Central Epidemic Command Center decided in June to lift travel restrictions for her mother and sisters to visit Taiwan.
After undergoing special blood tests arranged by TVGH, the 5-year-old sister was identified as a suitable donor for a transplant. The operation was carried out after the three family members completed their 21-day quarantine in Taiwan and provided two consecutive negative COVID-19 test results.
After having received medical treatment in Taiwan for nine months, Nina was discharged from the hospital Thursday, after doctors confirmed she had recovered from the life-threatening illness.