Story written by Nick Stofberg in October 2013
Firstly, if you had told me a few years ago that I would have the opportunity to potentially save somebody’s life, I wouldn’t have believed it. However, that’s exactly what has recently happened to me. But before I go into detail, I should probably start from the beginning.
My last 3 years of high school (2000 – 2002) were spent at Reddam House in Tokai, Cape Town, which is where I met a truly inspirational person and student, Chris Corlett. It was a small school and whilst I wasn’t a direct friend with Chris, I’ll never forget his infectious smile. When Chris was diagnosed with leukaemia, the pupils at the school were encouraged to join the South African Bone Marrow Registry with the help of The Sunflower Fund. Without hesitation, myself and my parents all joined, in the hope that we would be able to help Chris or someone else in his position. The sign up process was really simple and straight forward and we all hoped that there would be some good news.
Unfortunately, Chris passed away in Sept 2000 which was devastating news but his battle was not in vain. The awareness that was raised because of Chris and his mum, Tina Botha (Founder Director of The Sunflower Fund), was just amazing and the effects are still being felt today.
After Matric, I moved to London and when unpacking, I came across my SABMR donor card. This immediately prompted me to contact Tina. I sent her an email and explained I had moved abroad but still wanted to make sure that I am on the register and they have my latest contact details. Tina responded and also suggested I contact the Anthony Nolan Trust here in the UK who are a Bone Marrow Donor Charity much like The Sunflower Fund.
I then made contact with the Anthony Nolan and they sent me a ‘spit kit’. To register, I simply had to take a swab of salvia, put it into a test tube and post it back to them. They ran some basic tests to narrow down the potential matches. It was very straight forward and simple. For the last 10 years, I never heard anything about being a match for a patient.
Then about 6 months ago, I got a letter and email asking me to call the Anthony Nolan. Of course I called and I was told that from the initial test, I was a potential match along with a handful of other people. This was great news. They then arranged for a nurse to come around to my flat to draw some blood samples to run additional tests to narrow down the matching. Two weeks later, I got a call saying I was the best match for the patient. Even better news! And, there wasn’t a need for a bone marrow harvest; instead the stem cells would be collected via my Peripheral Blood known as a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant (PBSCT).
A few conversations later and everything was booked in and arranged, from the G-CSF injections, to the hospital date for the actual donation. Unfortunately, 1 week before the donation and just 2 days before my injections were due to start, I was told the patient had an infection. I was so upset, as I worried that the patient might not be strong enough to fight the infection. However, 3 weeks later I was told everything was fine and back on track so we booked everything again.
I started my 4 day course of G-CSF injections in September. The nurse came around that evening and gave me 3 small injections. These injections are to encourage the production and movement of excess stem cells from my bone marrow into my blood stream so that they can be taken from the blood rather than the bone. I had no problems over the 4 days of injections and it didn’t affect my day to day routine in anyway. Then the big day arrived in October and I made my way to University College Hospital in central London. After a quick health check, we were ready to begin.
The PBSCT method is painless and not intrusive at all. I had one needle in my one arm for the drawing of the blood (pretty much the same as when you donate blood) but then also another needle in my opposite wrist to pump the blood back in. After the blood is drawn, it goes through a machine which then separates the blood cells and collects the ones it needs (stem cells) and the rest of your blood is pumped back into you. So there is actually very little blood lost. I sat/lay there for about 4.5 hours watching TV, working on my laptop, having lunch etc. You can still use the arm that has the blood coming back into. Throughout the day, the nurses were very attentive and kept making sure I was comfortable. After this time, they sent a sample to the lab and 30min later got the news that they had in fact collected double the amount of cells that they were hoping for!
I then packed up my belongings and made my way home as if I had spent a normal day in the office (well, actually it was more relaxing than a day in the office).
All I know at this stage is that my recipient is a female between 18 and 40 years old. I can say that it is a great feeling to know that I have given someone the chance to survive and I feel privileged to have helped and given hope.
The entire process of registering right up until the donation was simple, easy and I cannot stress this enough – painless! Should I be a match again, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I would like to extend a huge thanks to Tina & The Sunflower Fund for all their hard work. If it wasn’t for them, this person may not have been given this opportunity.
I encourage everyone to join the Registry (wherever you are in the world) and hopefully you could save someone’s life. If you are in South Africa, call The Sunflower Fund toll free number 0800 12 10 82 or visit www.sunflowerfund.org.za for more information.
Donor for Life,