Oct 2022 2nd Edition

Stem cell donation is a painless way to help save lives

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

Mfundo Mxolisi Ngwenya (30) from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, is one of the few black stem cell donors in the country. Mfundo Ngwenya is a stem cell donor.

The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) says more people of colour need to register as donors because a patient has the best chance of finding a match in their ethnic grouping. According to the registry, only 10% of the 78 000 registered donors are black, while 9.9% are Indian/Asian and 67% are white.

The SABMR says most donors donate through a process called peripheral blood stem cell collection. It says the same stem cells found in your bone marrow are also found in your circulating blood. A non-surgical, outpatient procedure is done to collect these cells. Blood is removed through a needle in one arm, passed through a machine that collects stem cells and returned through a needle in your other arm. Stem cells are important to cure blood diseases such as leukaemia, marrow failure or aplasia.

Ngwenya, a sports manager at the Durban University of Technology, says he first learnt about stem cell donation in 2012 when the SABMR held a roadshow at a local complex. “I have always donated blood and am always eager to help, so I went for it. It was really easy because they just took a swab in the mouth and said I should expect a call.”

The sample taken from a potential donor’s mouth is tested and their details are stored so that they can be contacted if they become a match for someone in need of stem cells.

“Last year, I received a call that they had found a perfect match. The process to donate is quite lengthy and involves about 13 different tests, ranging from a physical [to check overall health] to blood tests. I also had to inject myself on a daily basis,” he says. The actual donation takes between six and eight hours.

More donors needed

Ngwenya says people need to be made aware that the donation process does not involve surgery. He says in some cases, cultural beliefs may stop people from becoming donors.

The SABMR says it will be engaging traditional and religious leaders to promote stem cell donation. It says the more black people come forward, the more lives can be saved.

To find out more about stem cell donation, visit www.sabmr.co.za, call 021 447 8638 or email donors@sabmr.co.za

Share this page