Office closures during the festive season does not mean do not save lives. The Sunflower Foundation has assured potential donors that their donations will still be of use even next year. The foundation closed on 15 December and will be opening on 7 January.

Head of communications at the Sunflower Foundation, Kim Webster said people that are interested in registering as donors can mail them or reach the foundation via social media platforms during this time. “With this said, we find that we are always needing to reinforce information for awareness and education purposes, as people don’t always respond the first or second time they see or hear a message.

“Currently there are a number of patients across the country in search of matching stem cells. The figures are not exact at this stage as some donors are tested privately for specific patients. However, there are patients in all provinces and almost all our major cities currently in search of a match. One of the major challenges with donors and patient matching is ethnicity. A patient has the best chance of finding a match from someone within the same ethnic or cultural background as they are. In South Africa, most of our Black, Coloured, Indian/Asian and other mixed ethnic groups are underrepresented and patients from these cultures have a harder time finding a match. As such, we need to grow an ethnically diverse registry of donors from across the country,” said Webster

Webster encouraged more donors to register. ” Only two test tubes of blood are required. Our call centre team will take a donor through the registration process telephonically, to go through a health screening questionnaire and direct them to the closest lab that we partner with to have the bloods drawn. An important thing for people to know is when they register they are added to a national database, and should therefore be willing to help anyone for whom they are a match. They will remain on the database until they are a match for a patient or until the age of 60 (whichever comes first).

When a donor is identified as a match for a patient, the process of donating stem cells takes between four to six hours. The process is similar to donating platelets. A needle is inserted in one arm, blood is drawn out of the arm and goes through a cell separator machine that removes the stem cells. The blood is then pumped back via the other arm. Stem cells are only harvested from the donor when they are identified as a match for a patient.”

To be a donor you need to be between the ages of 18 to 45 years with a weight of more than 50kgs and a BMI of less than 40. There is no cost to the donor whatsoever and also no major side effects or recovery time, according to Webster.

” A stem cell transplant can be a cure for more than 70 different diseases. For most patients in need of a transplant, this is their only hope of cure and therefore their only life-saving treatment option. Finding a matching donor is not as easy as a matching blood group. A patient in search of match is essentially in search of their genetic twin. A patient only has a 25% chance of finding a match within the family. As such, 75% of the time an unrelated matched donor is required. We therefore need to continuously grow the registry of committed donors to give patients the best hope and chance of finding that match.”

To donate or register contact info@sunflowerfund.org.za.