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March 2021 1st edition

Help save lives

Written by Allison Cooper

The Sunflower Fund is calling on South Africans to boost the ethnic diversity of its blood stem cell donor database to save children’s lives.

Zyaan Makda’s life has turned around thanks to the help she received from a donor.According to Palesa Mokomele, the Sunflower Fund’s head of marketing and communications, thousands of patients are diagnosed with blood-related diseases every year.

In the past, this diagnosis was often fatal. Today, a blood stem cell transplant can be a potentially life-saving treatment as it replaces a person’s defective stem cells with healthy ones.

Sadly, many who could benefit from this procedure do not get the treatment they need because finding a donor with a similar tissue type is difficult.

“Patients of colour are at a disadvantage due to the low number of registered donors from black, coloured and Indian population groups,” says Mokomele.

A second chance at life

Zyaan Makda’s (19) world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with heterozygote haemoglobinopathy, a life-threatening and incurable blood disorder, in 2007.

Her best chance of survival was a blood stem cell donor, but a match couldn’t be found. As a result, she had to have blood transfusions every two weeks.

“The veins in my hands collapsed and I had a port put in my chest. I also experienced constant fatigue, had my gallbladder and gallstones removed and suffered from an underactive thyroid.

I was frequently absent from school for medical reasons and could not take part in sports. Spending long periods of time in hospital was difficult,” she says.

Makda’s condition also caused memory loss and seizures and she had to take three years off school. Despite these challenges, she remained positive. Makda finally found a donor, but her journey to health was far from over. She had to have brain surgery to remove a scar on her brain.

“I’m now three years post-transplant and living a life I never thought possible, thanks to my German donor’s amazing act of humanity and kindness.”

Be someone’s hope

Naledi Senamela (14) was diagnosed with leukaemia (blood cancer) in May 2020. She joins countless patients who need a matching donor.

“Since my diagnosis, I cannot perform well at school. I can’t play sport or do the things I used to enjoy,” says Senamela, who dreams of becoming a doctor.

Willing donors between the ages of 18 and 55 can assist Senamela and many others in need of a donor by registering on the Sunflower Fund’s website.

All it takes is a simple cotton swab and a few minutes of your time. Request a swab kit from the Sunflower Fund by visiting www.sunflowerfund.org or call 0800 12 10 82.