Medical Miracles

Life saving bone marrow transplants

Bone marrow transplants have saved the lives of 1000s of South Africans. Certain illnesses occur when bone marrow is unable to function properly. Bone marrow produces our blood cells – red cells to carry oxygen, platelets to clot bleeding, and white cells to fight infection and create immunity.

For patients like teenager Ricky Lee Haman, diagnosed with the life threatening condition Aplastic Anemia, a bone marrow transplant was vital.

The problem is that bone marrow needs to be an almost exact tissue type match – far more complex than the normal blood group match and far more rare to find. Thirty percent of patients find the match within their family with a close blood relative. But for the remaining 70 percent who do not, the South African Bone Marrow Registry helps them find unrelated donor matches.

Tissue typing relies on genetic matching, therefore, it often is more successful within one’s ethnic group. Unfortunately the South African registry is still small and mostly white. So, for patients like Ricky Lee, with her mixed ethnic heritage the search for a match was much harder.

Luckily an American donor was found. The registry outlines their ‘military style’ operation in getting the essential bone marrow from donor to patient in the necessary 72 -hour window available. It’s a streamlined highly efficient procedure– and the bone marrow needs to get here on time no matter what obstacles they have to deal with along the way.

Barbara Friedman tells the story below...

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