South African celebrities, Nicholas Goliath and Kuli Roberts, have registered with the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) in a quest to donate bone marrow to save the lives of children and adults diagnosed with leukaemia and other life-threatening blood disorders.
According to the SABMR – the only bone marrow registry in South Africa – over the years many South Africans, of all ages and races, affected by a blood disease reach a stage where their only chance of survival is receiving a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a healthy unrelated donor. The registry is particularly wanting to raise awareness of the need for Black, Coloured and Asian donors and are therefore thrilled to have Nicholas Goliath and Kuli Roberts on their database.
Comments Dr Charlotte Ingram, Medical Director of the SABMR: “Last year 51% of 150 preliminary donor search requests were for patients of Black, Coloured or Asian origin. However, only three out of 25 patients who received transplants in 2015 were in this group. These figures indicate an urgent need to recruit more donors from all ethnic backgrounds.”
The SABMR works in partnership with The Sunflower Fund to create awareness and educate the public about blood disorders and the need for bone marrow donors. The Sunflower Fund handles the initial donor registration process and covers the cost thereof. The role of the SABMR is to co-ordinate the donation of stem cells, follow up on the progress of transplant patients, and maintain contact with donors post stem cell donation.
Nicholas Goliath, comedian at Goliath & Goliath, says: “After meeting with the amazing ladies from the Sunflower Fund and receiving information as to the key role played by the SABMR, I realised the donation process was not that difficult and I could possibly save a life by simply being a registered member. Many people have the misconception that the bone marrow donation process is very painful, but this is not the case. I was also surprised to learn that the ethnic background of a donor is significant in finding the perfect match for a person needing a bone marrow transplant. I believe many South Africans don’t realise that if more people from every racial group register, a patient has a better chance of finding a match locally. By registering as a bone marrow donor you may be able to be a match for a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant – this is perhaps the greatest gift you can give to somebody and it's the right thing to do.”
Kuli Roberts, host on SABC3’s Trending SA and co-host on Kaya FM comments: “I was made aware of the SABMR when the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) did a blood drive at the Kaya FM studios. I didn’t know that patients with life-threatening blood disorders, who cannot find a donor, are kept alive by receiving regular blood transfusions – this prompted me to register with the SABMR. I believe we were all placed on earth to serve a purpose and while we can’t all feed the poor, or clothe the impoverished, we can register as bone marrow donors.”
The age requirement to register is 18 – 45 years, and donors up to 60 years of age are still able to donate bone marrow. Candidates need to weigh over 50 kg with a BMI <40, be in general good health and not at risk of contracting hepatitis or sexually transmitted diseases. Upon registration, via The Sunflower Fund, two test tubes of blood will be taken from the arm. The blood is tested to identify tissue type and the results are sent to the SABMR to be placed on the local registry and international database, while great care is taken to ensure a donor’s personal details are kept anonymous. The SABMR will only contact potential donors if they are a potential match, following which further tests will be run to ensure a confirmed match.
Dr Ingram concludes: “Many people still believe bone marrow stem cells are donated by a surgeon drilling into a person’s hip bone, but this is not the case. The process of donating bone marrow is very similar to donating blood platelets. Blood, drawn via a needle in one arm or in some instances a central venous line, gets filtered through a cell separator machine which deposits bone marrow stem cells into a bag. The rest of the blood is returned via a needle in the other arm. This process takes approximately four to six hours and might need to be done over two consecutive days. The bag of stem cells will then be used to perform the patient’s life-saving bone marrow stem cell transplant.”
With only 74 000 registered donors on file and the chance of finding an unrelated match for a patient diagnosed with a blood disease being one in 100 000, it is evident that there is a dire need for more South Africans to register with the SABMR.
The SABMR is a non-profit organisation that relies on donations from the public, to make a financial contribution visit http://www.sabmr.co.za/donate/ or contact 021 447 8638. Should you wish to become a donor, please contact The Sunflower Fund on toll-free number: 0800 12 10 82 or visit www.sunflowerfund.org.za.