It’s only once you meet people like Tazkia Moosa, an 11-year-old diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), or five-month-old Mighty Mack who has been battling leukaemia in hospital, that you fully comprehend the need for more South Africans to become donors.
Johannesburg, South Africa (04 August 2021) – ‘You could be someone’s tomorrow’. ‘Your blood saves lives’. ‘Become a donor’ – many South Africans will have heard these at least a handful of times before.
But how often do we stop and take heed of these pleas or fully understand why we should become bone marrow, blood, and organ donors?
“It’s only once you meet people like Tazkia Moosa, an 11-year-old diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), or five-month-old Mighty Mack who has been battling leukaemia in hospital, that you fully comprehend the need for more South Africans to become donors,” says Lianne Williams, Head of Marketing at Vuma.
“Just a half-hour of your day could literally save a life – sometimes three lives, just with one donation.”
According to the South African National Blood Service, a single unit of blood can save as many as three lives. This is because the blood is separated into three components – red blood cells, platelets and plasma – capable of saving a wide range of patients, including chemotherapy patients in need of blood transfusions, women haemorrhaging due to pregnancy complications, and premature babies.
“Thankfully, we saw a significant turnout of people donating blood recently, which actually places us in a very good position right now. We’re hoping the current blood stores we have will see us through the lockdown period,” says Khensani Mahlangu, External Communication Specialist at SANBS. “For me, the stories that survivors and fighters have been sharing of their experiences are so important in really getting people to understand the need to become donors.”
Meet Mackenzie ‘Mighty Mack’ Friedman
Five-month-old Mackenzie, or ‘Mighty Mack’ as she is affectionately known, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in May and is currently undergoing chemotherapy while receiving regular blood and platelet transfusions between chemo treatments.
“She has to have a blood transfusion every two days because of her chemotherapy, and without that, she would not have made it this far,” says Mack’s Aunt, Nikita Friedman. “Blood donation is absolutely critical. There is a very strange perception that blood donations only go to car accident victims or other trauma cases when that’s really not the case at all. There are so many kids in Mack’s situation who need it, to literally see another day and carry-on fighting.”
According to her aunt, Mackenzie initially went through 10 days of intense chemo, receiving 24 doses of the drug during this period. As such, she needed a blood transfusion every three days. And, while the country rallied to donate blood to help with Baby Mack’s blood transfusions, further tests revealed her AML as high risk at the time, which required an urgent bone marrow transplant. Shortly after, she was ventilated and placed in an induced coma in the ICU.
Thankfully, in what her doctor said could only be described as a miracle, Mack managed to kill her own cancer cells while she was in a coma, bringing her latest cancer blast count to 0.1%.
“What this all means is that Mackenzie is technically in chemo-induced remission as her count is under 5%, and on paper, we are able to do the bone marrow transplant now!” said Mack’s mom, Megan Harrington-Johnson, in a Facebook post. “If you haven’t yet registered, we again urge you to do so – not just for Mackenzie but for the thousands of other people in need of Bone Marrow transplants.”
There is still a long way to go before ‘Mack’s Army’ can truly celebrate. Because of the genetic mutation in Mack’s cancer, the likelihood of Mack relapsing is extremely high if she does not receive a bone marrow transplant. This means that she will need to complete the current round of chemo she is onto increase her chances of getting her Minimal Residual Disease level even lower so that she will be able to receive the transplant.
Meet 11-year-old cancer survivor, Tazkia Moosa
Tazkia was diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that occurs when T-cells (the white blood cells that help fight infection) become abnormal.
She endured seven weeks of chemotherapy, throughout which she needed to receive blood transfusions to counteract the damage caused by the chemo to her bone marrow. Bone marrow is the factory that produces red cells to carry oxygen, white cells to fight infections and platelets to prevent bleeding. Without these transfusions, her little body wouldn’t have been able to win her battle with cancer.
Tazkia is now, thankfully, in remission for the past three months; her mum, Anri Moosa, is very grateful to the selfless donors; she knows that Tazkia would not be in remission today without the blood transfusions she received along her arduous journey with cancer.
“You always hear the stories of other people, and now we are those other people,” says Anri. “We’ve learned so much in this time, about blood donation and the importance of platelets, about bone marrow; it’s heartbreaking to realise that there are only 73,000 people on the bone marrow registry and thousands of people needing a transplant.”
According to the SABMR, there is an urgent need for more donors of colour to sign up for the registry
“Currently, there is only a one in 100 000 chance of finding a bone marrow stem cell donor match for patients of European descent. The odds drop even further for patients of other races due to the low donor numbers from these groups. Finding donor matches for patients of mixed ethnic race is even more challenging. South Africa has one of the most culturally diverse groups of people, which translates into an extensive genetic diversity,” CEO and Medical Director Dr Charlotte Ingram explains.
Registering to become a bone marrow donor is simple. If you are between the ages of 16 and 45 and relatively healthy, simply visit www.sabmr.co.za to register your details. Should you be eligible following a medical questionnaire, a buccal swab kit, which only requires your DNA through a cheek swab, will be dispatched to your home at no cost. The swab kit will then be sent for HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) / genetic typing, and your results are added to the SABMR database. Once a search is activated, and you’re a match, you will be contacted to establish if you are still able and willing to proceed. This could happen at any time. While some donors are called after three months, others are contacted after 10 or more years.
For more information on the stem cell collection process, have a look at the frequently asked questions here:https://sabmr.co.za/frequently-asked-questions/.