How to be a superhero

No cape Ultraman of Download? Can’t fly? No problem! By becoming a bone marrow donor, anyone can be a superhero!

About 1 in 7 South Africans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. And you can save those people. How? With a simple blood sample, you can help cure patients suffering from Leukaemia – the most common cancer amongst children!

What is childhood leukaemia?

Unlike other cancers, which develop in the form of a tumour, leukaemia is a cancer of the blood. Leukaemia develops when the bone marrow (that makes blood cells), starts to produce abnormal blood cells. Over time, these abnormal cells start pushing out the normal cells, making it hard for the normal cells to do their job.

How is it treated?

The most effective method is to do a bone marrow transplant. During this process, the child who has leukaemia will get chemotherapy and radiation to destroy their own bone marrow. This is where you come in: doctors will implant your cells into the child’s body, where they will make their way into the bone, where they settle and start to produce healthy blood cells once again.

We don’t have enough donors!

If you need a transplant, you need to find a matching donor that is genetically the same as you, in other words, you’re looking for your identical twin! Just like we all have a blood type, we have a “tissue type” too. The challenge is that unlike blood, where there only being 4 main types (A, B, AB and O), there are a large number of different tissue types. The most obvious place to start is with your siblings, but the chance of finding a sibling match is 1 in 4, so around 75% of patients will have to find an alternative.

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The Sunflower Fund and the South African Bone Marrow Registry keep records of all of the donors that could be a potential match. There it becomes easier, but still, the odds of finding your twin are only around 1 in 100,000! The more people who sign up, the more lives can be saved!

While ethnicity is one of our greatest strengths in South Africa, it’s also one of our biggest challenges when trying to find a match. The current ethnic breakdown of the bone marrow registry is: Black: 5%; Coloured 6%; Asian 8%; White 73%. Ideally we need to have at least 100,000 of each of these groups to ensure the greatest chance of a match!

Becoming a bone marrow donor is as simple as becoming a blood donor

Donating your blood marrow sounds like a painful and stressful experience, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. All you need to do is provide a small sample of blood. This blood is sent off to a lab for testing. If you are found to be a match, you would be asked to provide further blood samples. The blood that you provide is then put into a machine called a cell separator. This collects the specific bone marrow cells that are needed for the transplant.

How to sign up to become a bone marrow donor

Visit www.sunflowerfund.org.za, or call 0800 12 10 82/ 021 701 0661

What are you waiting for? Sign up and be proud to say “I’m a bone marrow donor – what’s your superpower?”