Dr Bukhosi Mtukushe had recently graduated with a medical degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT) when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, an insidious cancer that attacks blood platelets and lymph nodes.
Naturally he was devastated at the news; no-one at the age of 28years wants to hear that he has a life-threatening disease.
After the initial shock at the news, Bukhosi began the process of trying to get his body back into health by admitting at the UCT private hospital for a course of chemotherapy in December 2006, a month after the diagnosis.
Although his attending physician was optimistic about the initial course – which lasted five months – further tests revealed that a second regiment of chemotherapy was necessary. And thus Bukhosi was forced to steel himself for another round of chemotherapy from July 2007 to October of that same year. Although his family and girlfriend were pillars of support, they nonetheless wondered how a young person who’d led a very active lifestyle and did not smoke would suffer from cancer.
However, thousands of South Africans are diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disorder each year and 75% of them are under 25-years old. Many rely on a bone marrow stem cell transplant for their survival; Bukhosi among them.
Bukhosi underwent an autologous bone marrow stem cell transplant in March last year. But his immune system was so weak, possibly as a result of the chemotherapy, that his body has been unable to fully recover since then.
A low white cell count and low platelets have rendered him practically incapable of performing his duties as a medical doctor. He is at high risk for infection and for bleeding easily as a result of his body’s inability to create sufficient blood clotting agents.
His physician believes there’s a big risk for a relapse and has therefore placed him on a waiting list for a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a donor with the same tissue type as him, either genetically inherited from a family member or an unrelated person with similar genetic makeup.
Unfortunately, none of his family members who have offered to become donors match Bukhosi’s tissue type. And the search for an unrelated donor on the South African Bone Marrow Registry has been unsuccessful.
The odds of finding a suitable bone marrow stem cell donor who is not a relative are 1:100 000. There are currently 64 000 donors on the SABMR. The likelihood of finding a matching unrelated donor is considerably greater in people from the same ethnic background. However, with Black donors making up less than 15% of the Registry, Bukhosi’s search for a matching donor may be prolonged. It is up to his fellow South African’s to change this. We can speed up the search process by becoming bone marrow stem cell donors. The more donors we have on the SABMR, the more chances we are giving to patients like Bukhosi to have a bone marrow transplant that could save his life!