Frequently asked questions

Please read and understand the information below when making your decision.

1How would I help?
It all depends on ordinary people like you, ordinary people who wish to give the amazing GIFT OF LIFE.

YOU could be that MATCH for someone with leukaemia or other life threatening blood disorders. The chances of finding a match are about 1:100 000 and it could be you! You may well be the only one in the world who can provide that match and save someone’s life.
2Who do we need as donors?
Every healthy person between 18 and 45 can be a donor. “Tissue-types” are inherited characteristics, used in matching donors and patients. The likelihood, therefore, of finding a suitable volunteer will be considerably greater within the same ethnic background. Currently less than 30% of donors on the SABMR are of African, Asian and mixed ethnic origin. We need to ensure that the demographics of the SABMR reflect that of our rainbow nation.
3What is the South Africa Bone Marrow Registry?
It is an organisation that registers potential blood stem cell donors and already has access to over 27 million participants. Participants are 75 stem cell donor registries from 53 countries. The SABMR was started in 1991 and has been designated as the Hub centre for this Continent. As such, we are responsible for coordinating the provision of unrelated donors for our patients in association with a world wide data base.
4Why do people need bone marrow transplants?
According to the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) hundreds of South Africans with blood diseases such as leukaemia reach the point where their only chance of survival is a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
5Why are unrelated donors needed?
Family members, particularly brothers and sisters are generally most suitable. However, due to the average family size, only a small percentage of patients have a compatible sibling match. About 70 % will have to search for an unrelated matched donor.
6How do bone marrow transplants save lives?
The patient’s diseased marrow is destroyed by combinations of cytotoxic drugs and radiation. The graft from the healthy donor is given intravenously. Thereafter the blood forming stem cells travel to cavities in the large bones and, following engraftment, begin producing normal blood.
7What is bone marrow?
This is the tissue that could be regarded as the factory for the production of red cells to carry oxygen, white cells to fight infection and platelets to prevent bleeding.
8How are donors and patients matched?
In the same way as red cell blood groups exist, so white cells can be categorised into groups known as “tissue-types”. Very many possible tissue types exist, so that finding the correct match depends upon having a very large register of volunteers. Although there are over 27 million donors registered worldwide some searches are still not successful.
9What does the donor initially do?
Donors, if deemed to be suitable, need to have a small blood sample taken which is sent to specialised laboratories for tissue-typing. The results are placed on The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR).
10What happens next?
Possible matching donors will be asked to provide further blood samples to help select the donor matches best for a particular patient.
11Can I change my mind?
You may withdraw from the registry at any time. However, if you are found to be a match and you commit to the procedure, a point is reached when withdrawing will have serious, possibly fatal consequences for the patient. We would prefer to have committed donors as you may be the only one in the world who can provide that match. Most donors are delighted to hear that they have been chosen to donate – after all, that’s why they joined the registry.
12How is bone marrow donated?
The stem (marrow) cells can be obtained by collection from the peripheral blood on a machine called a cell separator. This avoids general anaesthetic and hip punctures. It is equally efficient and comparable to bone marrow for the recipient, but much less pain and trouble for the donor.
13Are there any side effects for the donor?
Sibling transplants have been taking place for over 30 years; a short term side effect is flu-like symptoms during G-CSF stimulation; some donors have also reported mild bone pain.
14Where would I donate?
The medical procedure for obtaining stem cells is called a harvest. If you are asked to donate you would be required to attend a specialist harvest centre in South Africa.
15Is a transplant a definite cure?
Unfortunately the field of bone marrow transplantation is complex and a number of patients still die of complications despite the best medical care. Increasing numbers of successful transplants are being carried out using matched unrelated donors. However, donors can only be assured that they offer the hope of a future to patients whose disease would almost certainly otherwise prove fatal.
16Where can I join?
Donors are recruited on behalf of the SABMR by The Sunflower Fund. For more information please call: 0800-12-10-82
17Keep in contact.
Your details are kept on the registry until you are 60 years old and it is therefore vitally important that you keep us updated with your current contact details – so that you can be found when you are needed. All information that you supply is kept strictly confidential.

Click here for Donor Recruitment Policy

Hope begins with you.