When you hear ‘bone marrow’ the mind immediately wanders to a lumbar puncture – that painful thing where a big needle goes into your spine. And it goes without saying that the idea of donating said bone marrow is met with the same painful thoughts.
However, in South Africa, that is almost never the case when it comes to donating bone marrow.
Four influencers, Twitter trendsetter Karabo Mokgoko, Terence Mentor a.k.a AfroDaddy, lifestyle influencer Clarice Cairncross and travel queen Thobi Rose, joined social media hands with the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) to spread awareness and bust a few myths along the way. Geared with Kwanga the bear and a lot of information, they have talked about the importance of getting more donors on the registry and diversifying the registry because the reality is: to save more South African lives, the registry needs to diversify, people of colour is needed.
But why? What does bone marrow have to do with the colour of your skin?
Simply put: EVERYTHING.
First, let’s talk about bone marrow. Who needs it?
For a lot of people suffering from blood-related diseases such as leukaemia, a bone marrow transplant is the only chance of survival. Only 30% of patients can find a match within their own family, the other 70% must look elsewhere. That is where the SABMR comes in. They are tasked with finding life-saving matches for patients, and while the search starts local, it expands beyond South Africa’s borders. The SABMR works closely with registries in 76 countries to increase the chances of finding a match.
Unfortunately, not everyone finds a match; the chance to find a match is just 1 in 100 000.
Blood type has nothing to do with finding a match. It is all about who you are as a person. In the same way as red cell blood groups exist, white cells can also be categorised into groups known as “tissue-types”. Some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others. Your ethnic background can make all the difference.
A bigger difference than you could have ever imagined.
Brenda Masuku signed up to become a bone marrow donor in 1999, she was the first black South African to register. Four years after signing up, she was matched with a young girl in California. And it just goes to show how connected we all are as humans, how one South African who grew up in a village in Mpumalanga, saved a young girl’s life in the United States of America.
But does it hurt?
That is a question that gets asked a lot. And without finding the answer, a lot of people are put off from signing up to become a donor because they imagine pain, being in the hospital for a long period, a big needle and side effects.
Most transplants happening in South Africa is much like donating blood. It is called peripheral blood stem cell collection.
And it works like this: through peripheral blood stem cell collection blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a cell separation machine that will collect blood cells. The remaining blood is then returned to you through a needle in the other arm.
It is usually about a 6-hour process.
No drilling into your bones.
And side effects? Maybe you will experience fatigue for two to three days after the procedure.
Six hours to save a life. Because of who you are. Because of your genes. Because of your mother. Because of your father. Because of your ancestors.
And signing up is simple. You complete a form online (click here). A buccal swab test kit is sent to you (cheek swab) and then you go onto the registry. You might be matched with a patient within months, you might be matched 10 years later, you might never match with a patient.
If you want to find out more about becoming a bone marrow donor, visit www.sabmr.co.za. There are of course certain requirements if you want to sign up, you need to be in good health and between 18 and 45 (click here for full list).
And lastly, as a donor, there are NO costs involved for you when signing up or donating stem cells. All donor-related costs are covered by the SABMR. The SABMR is a non-profit organisation and relies heavily on donations to save more lives.