Organ donation helps save lives

2016-10-06 06:00
Vincent Jacobs, beneficiary, Brenda Masuku, the first black South African to donate stem cells and Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, the Mayoral Committee Member for Health, at V&A Waterfront, on Thursday. PHOTO: Mbongiseni Maseko

Vincent Jacobs, beneficiary, Brenda Masuku, the first black South African to donate stem cells and Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, the Mayoral Committee Member for Health, at V&A Waterfront, on Thursday. PHOTO: Mbongiseni Maseko

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The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) recently celebrated its 25th anniversary of successfully matching unrelated donors to patients who have rare blood diseases.

The event also served as an opportunity for two patients to meet the donors of their bone marrow stem cell for the first time and also as the launch of their book titled An Uncommon Gift, which contains information about the disease.

According to SABMR, every year, hundreds of South Africans with blood diseases such as leukaemia and bone marrow failure reach a stage where their only chance of survival is by receiving a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.

“Approximately 30% of patients find a match within their families whilst the other 70% rely on finding a match from an unrelated donor to provide them with the chance of survival.”

SABMR currently has 72 000 registered bone marrow donors in its database and the chance of finding a match for a patient diagnosed with a blood disease is one in 100 000, which makes South African based donor recruitment essential.

Dr Charlotte Ingram said: “Bone marrow is the tissue that produces red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection and platelets to prevent bleeding– all are required to sustain life. The transplanted cells taken from the donor replace the recipient’s cancerous cells that have been destroyed by chemotherapy and these healthy cells then produce the new red and white blood cells, as well as platelets.”

Nello Nkatu, the mother of Zivile Nkatu,7, and who was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was two months old, said she knew about the disease only after her son became sick.

She said he started by crying every time she breast fed him and then he started bleeding from his mouth.

She said after her son turned pale, she took him to hospital, and was shocked to learn that his only chance of survival was to receive blood from someone else.

“I did not know that children can also be diagnosed with cancer, I thought it was only for old people. We lack such information,”

Nkatu said her son only had few matching donors, who were all based abroad, but she could not afford to pay for the stem cell transplant.

They had to wait for about five years before help could come their way.

She said Zivile responded well to treatment after the transplant was performed in 2014.

He started going to school last June after his doctor gave them the green light.

In June 2015, Nkatu embarked on a mission to educate others about the importance of donating blood and also raises awareness about the disease.

She has since appeared in a documentary titled “Gift of Life” which was aired on the Etv programme called Check Point, in November 2014.

Vincent Jacobs, is a patient from the Northern Suburbs.

On the day, he met his German donor for the first time. A retired rugby player, Jacobs was operated on in 2009.

“I have no siblings, so it made it even harder for me to get someone who could be a matching donor.

He had been living with the illness for 11 years.

“I was vomiting a lot and had lost too much weight. It was not an easy time for me, but I stayed positive in life.

I am now feeling much better after the transplant and I want to make a difference in other patients for them to be strong,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs had lost his job as a Correctional Officer at Pollsmoor Prison because of the disease. Brenda Masuku, the first Black South African to donate stem cells to a non-related patient, said she was ignorant about donating until she started working for Liberty Life in 2002.

Masuku donated to a girl in the United States in 2002, but the patient passed on four years later. “I had been with colleagues to visit a boy suffering from leukaemia in hospital, and then decided to register as a donor.

I had never been exposed to such information before that. It is important for people to donate, because you could save a life by so doing,” Masuku said.

Mayoral Committee Member for Health, Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, said he also did not know about bone marrow transplants and that there is a need for the community to start knowing about such things.

“We have our own beliefs regarding some diseases that we know nothing about.”

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