Our History

Our History

Tina Botha, Founder of The Sunflower Fund steps aside to take on new challenges

Tina Botha, founder director of The Sunflower Fund bids farewell, and becomes founder patron. After many years of being the driving force behind The Sunflower Fund, Botha is stepping aside and taking time to explore a new chapter in her life. 

The Board, Management and Staff of The Sunflower Fund collectively offer heartfelt thanks to The Founder, Tina Botha as she embarks on her new journey. We wish her every success and happiness with her B&B in Franschhoek.

The Sunflower Fund pledges to continue the legacy and make a difference for many patients and their families for years to come.

To read or download the full press release, click here.

Chris' Story by his mother, Tina Botha (written in November 2000)

chris-corlett-02He was very special and extremely brave and has taught us all lessons and we all miss him so much.

Chris was first diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in August 1997 while he was in Grade 9 at Westerford High School in Cape Town. He underwent 6 months of gruelling chemotherapy and full body radiation. This was the beginning of a 3-year nightmare. In February 1998 he had his first bone marrow transplant. This was an autologous transplant with a harvest from his own blood as there were no compatible family donors and they were not doing unrelated transplants at that stage. By July 1998 Chris was back at school. He had managed to pass Gr 9 and move on to Gr 10 and a healthy future. During this time he even travelled to Durban to the "Gunston 500" surfing championships with "Reach for a Dream".

He began his Grade 11 year at Westerford, full of hope with a lot of plans for the future, art and graphic design always being the most important.

The bubble burst in March 1999 when he suffered a relapse. The leukaemia was back with a vengeance and Chris had to decide whether he wanted to give up or fight back and try again. The worst thing was that Chris had been through hell and now he knew exactly what to expect if he decided to do it again. As only Chris could do he decided to tackle it head on and began another 6 months of tortuous treatment. This time Chris had to have an unrelated matched donor transplant. This meant we had to find a match for him and we only had 6 months to do this. This was when we realised the terrible state that the South African Bone Marrow Registry was in.

Eventually after much publicity, doing endless blood clinics and searching the international databases, a donor was found in Natal and Chris underwent his 2nd bone marrow transplant in September 1999. It was during this time in isolation that he painted his "Sunflowers of Hope", which is hanging in the Sunflower ward at Constantiaberg today in memory of Chris. The support Chris had from his friends at Westerford was amazing. They truly kept him motivated and gave him the will to live. This was also the time he met his girlfriend, Lisa, who supported him through the worst time of his life. She meant so much to Chris and I am so grateful for what she was able to do for him.

This time we all really felt that it would work. He had found a donor and things were looking good. This was about the time that Chris read about a wonderful new school opening in Tokai called "Reddam House".

He convinced me that he really needed to move to a new school at this point as he would have to repeat Grade 11 due to all the work he had missed and all his friends would be moving on to their final matric year. This would have been very difficult for Chris and I agreed that the move would be a good idea. He wrote and applied for a scholarship, which was given to him based on his incredible artistic talent in both art and graphic design. I am sure his incredible strength of character also had something to do with being accepted.

The move to Reddam was fantastic for him. He began his 2nd Grade 11 year in January 2000 with new energy, new friends and great future prospects. I also decided to apply for the position of P.A. at Reddam and moved Tarryn and Jason as well. The future was really looking bright for all of us. For the first time in 3 years it felt as though it was really all behind us and we could start re-building our lives and living again.

But this was not to be, and in April 2000 Chris suffered his 2nd relapse and the whole process started again. Chris was given an unenviable choice - another transplant or 3 weeks to live! Again it was Chris's decision to carry on and we all supported this 100%. He said: "I still have so much I want to do and three weeks is just not long enough".

This time we had to again search for a donor and Chris was put into immediate isolation in the Constantiaberg Bone Marrow Unit. The chemotherapy started again and Chris really battled. He developed complications such as mucor, which was also life threatening in his condition. I cannot describe the pain of watching someone you love so dearly suffer so much. Unless you've been there, you have absolutely no idea of the suffering endured from high dose chemotherapy and all the other antibiotics, anti-fungal drugs, steroids, trial drugs, etc.

By July 2000 Christopher needed to get home and his Professor allowed me to nurse him at home full time. He wanted me to try and strengthen him mentally as his moral was down and he needed to prepare for transplant, which was now urgent. I ran a complete hospital at home, doing all the drips, bloods, platelets, and dressings on a daily basis. I travelled back and forth to the hospital with blood samples to get lab reports and keep his Professor updated. Those were the most amazing three weeks we had. Chris was so happy and doing so well. He was able to see his sister, Tarryn and his baby brother, Jason who were not allowed into the isolation ward at the hospital. The family was together again and everyone was happy and Chris was thriving. Sometimes I just wish I could have kept him there forever and not gone back to hospital but this was not possible. Chris was feeling so strong and positive and looking forward to a future and going to the "Red and Yellow" school to study graphic design and advertising.

They were the school behind the advert, which was on television to raise money for the Bone Marrow Registry. The students put this together after seeing Chris on "Carte Blanche".

We found a donor in Norway and the transplant was brought forward to 8 August as Chris was in remission.

Very traumatic weeks followed as Chris fought bravely to recover. His kidneys failed and he was put onto dialysis. At the beginning of September Chris was moved into ICU and we were told that he probably was not going to make it! This was the most devastating news and the most traumatic time. We just loved Chris as much as we could and spent as much time with him as possible. The day before he died, his blood count lifted for the first time and the transplant was, in fact, a success. Unfortunately his body had just had enough. I was with Chris when he very suddenly slipped away. I was able to hold him and talk to him and tell him I loved him. His whole family was there and I will never forget that day.

Chris had amazing courage and he touched a lot of people all over South Africa. We all miss him terribly but I truly know he is in a better place, free of pain and suffering and very busy creating new "Sunflowers of Hope".

The Sunflower Fund (Friends of the South African Bone Marrow Registry) are raising the necessary funds to continue the growth of the South African Bone Marrow Registry so that all our children have a better chance in the future in fighting life threatening blood disorders. We will keep Chris's dream alive and aim to reach our goal of 100 000 donors on the registry!!

We cannot do this on our own and need the support of everyone, from large companies to the average man in the street. Together we can achieve this.

THANK YOU.

Sunflowers of Hope

sunflowers-of-hope-paintingThe formation of The Sunflower Fund in 1999 in support of the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) was inspired by the heroic struggle against leukaemia of two brave young men, Darren Serebro (1997) and Chris Corlett (2000). It was started by a group of concerned parents whose children had contracted leukaemia, and sadly, in some cases had lost their battle against it.

Chris painted the original “Sunflowers of Hope” painting while in isolation during his treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Copies of this now hang in all the transplant units in South Africa , as well as one in New Zealand and one in Australia. Chris saw donors as the “Seeds of Hope” for patients suffering as he was – hence the name “Sunflowers of Hope”.

Sunflowers of Hope by Chris Corlett

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“Sunflowers of Hope” was painted by Chris Corlett (17 years old) before his death. Others, in their days of darkness, have done the same. Let the sunflower be a tribute to all those that have not survived and a symbol of hope to all patients in the future.

The fight for hope by increasing the SABMR to help others was continued tirelessly by Mervyn Serebro (father of Darren) and Tina Botha (mother of Chris), who is now Founder - Director of The Sunflower Fund.

Chris Corlett, Darren Serebro, and a multitude of others have fought so bravely but did not survive – largely due to the fact that donors were not found early enough or not at all. There are many, many others, who have been diagnosed with leukaemia and other life threatening blood disorders, whose only hope is a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.