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Thanking a donor for the gift of life

How do you thank someone for saving your life? This is the question that Vivian de Klerk recently found herself answering, as she had the opportunity to send a letter to a young German woman who had selflessly donated stem cells to make Vivian’s stem cell transplant possible.

Vivian was diagnosed with paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare disorder in which red blood cells break apart prematurely, and she was in dire need of a stem cell transplant. As this was unfolding, a world away in Germany, Linda Weigand’s mother received a letter from DKMS – the German Bone Marrow Donor Centre, asking whether anyone in her family would consider joining the German Bone Marrow Registry, as they had unusual genetic characteristics. Linda, who was 19 years old at the time, immediately registered and within three months, received a call to say that she was a possible match for a woman in South Africa.

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“They wanted to know if I was ready to make a stem cell donation,” says Linda. “I didn’t even have to think about it and, of course, my answer was YES.” She submitted additional blood samples for in-depth testing and soon received a response confirming that she was a match for this patient!

After a thorough medical check-up, Linda prepared for the donation process by undergoing regular injections to stimulate the growth of new stem cells.

In the meantime, Vivian was prepared for her transplant and the lifesaving ‘stem cells’ landed in Cape Town early in 2011. Vivian had the transplant the same day, and doctors were amazed at how quickly she recovered. Within eight days, Vivian was discharged from the hospital, and was soon back at work as a radio operator in the South African Air Force. Just a year after her transplant, Vivian hiked the 98-kilometre Fish River Canyon trail in Namibia and as a Cape Town resident, is a regular on the trails in the Table Mountain National Park.

In 2015, she was a member of the South African Transplant Team that participated in Argentina at the World Transplant Games, and won six medals. “All of this achievement wouldn’t have been possible, if it wasn’t for your selfless gift,” she says to Linda.

In turn, Linda is as pleased to have connected with Vivian, “It is such a good feeling to know who you are! It makes me unbelievably happy that I know who my genetic twin is!”