Sandiso is a nine-year-old boy from Durban. He dreams of becoming a hip-hop DJ like Cassper Nyovest and enjoys watching rugby, especially when Siya Kolisi is playing. His dreams nearly came to a crashing halt in January 2020 when he was diagnosed with idiopathic aplastic anaemia.
His uncle, Siyabonga shares the story of how they found out about this condition and what it would entail.
“At first I thought he was just ill and I took him to a doctor in Durban. They did a number of tests, including some blood tests,” Siya recalls.
“Then we got the news. There was something wrong with his blood and Sandiso needed a bone marrow transplant. We were shocked.”
After some checks at a hospital in Durban, Sandiso was referred to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
Professor Alan Davidson, who heads the Haematology and Oncology unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH), shares one of his major concerns.
“Sometimes we just don’t have enough options for patients in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant,” he says. “We need a more diverse donor pool to make sure we have the right match for every patient.”
Unlike other forms of transplantation, bone marrow transplants don’t involve a surgical procedure. The stem cells which have been collected from a donor’s bone marrow or peripheral blood are infused very much like a blood transfusion.
“This is little known or understood but despite the absence of drama it’s just as high-stakes as a solid organ transplant,” says Davidson.
“Although we’ve managed our patients, as well as patients referred from other hospitals, after transplants performed at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH), Sandiso is the first patient referred to RCWMCH specifically for a bone marrow transplant,” he continues. “And we must thank the GSH team for their amazing collegiality and support. Without a doubt children are the winners here.”
Stem cell transplantation is used as a medical treatment for life-threatening blood disorders, for blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma and for some inherited disorders which can be corrected with bone marrow new stem cells. It replaces the bone marrow with healthy cells which can fight cancer or perform vital functions for the recipient.
Become a donor and save lives, like that of Sandiso.
Become a donor:
The South African Bone Marrow Registry: https://sabmr.co.za/
The Sunflower Fund: www.sunflowerfund.org