(Published - 21 December 2018)
2018 was a big year for 25-year-old UWC law student Sibo Jimlongo. Not only did she write her final exams, but she also donated her life-saving bone marrow stem cells to a desperately ill child – an act she considers “an honour”.
Sibo Jimlongo is still blown away by the fact that she had the opportunity to save somebody's life. The story started in 2013, when she became a regular blood donor.
“I’m quite a giver by nature,” she says. “If I'm healthy and I'm able to give the blood, it's the least I can do. It's selfish of me not to do give!”
In early 2017, a bone marrow recruiter approached Sibo while she was donating blood on campus at UWC.
“She explained what bone marrow donation is all about - that a stem cell match needs to be like somebody's clone, and that ethnicity plays a big part. Would I consider it?” says Sibo.
A bone marrow donor is usually found within one’s ethnic group, and South Africa urgently needs more black donors to save patients with leukaemia and other blood diseases. Sibo signed up.
To her surprise, in January 2018 she was phoned by the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) asking if she’d be prepared to have further blood tests, as she might be a match for a patient. After a slew of tests another call came: she was indeed a perfect match.
Why would she subject herself to the inconvenience and possible pain, a few people she knew wondered.
“There's a bigger picture. It's not about you; it's about the next person. You're saving a life so someone else can do the things they envision.”
She saw her impending donation as an opportunity to educate others.
Sibo's donation was scheduled before exams in late 2018. For four days prior to this, she had Neupogen injections (which she chose to administer herself) to stimulate her bones to produce extra stem cells. On the morning of the donation, she and two friends drove to Netcare Kuilsriver Hospital where the process was overseen by friendly hospital staff, an SABMR staff member and a social worker.
“It took about six hours. One of my friends was as fascinated by the process as I was; we've watched a lot of Grey's Anatomy!” Sibo laughs.
From a tube in her femoral vein, her blood was sent into a machine where the stem cells were separated; the rest of her blood was returned to her.
“Afterwards I was quite emotional, thinking how the bag of stem cells would now go to whoever needed it. The SABMR were great. They go to the ends of the earth to ensure everything goes smoothly.”
Within three days the small incision from the intravenous line had healed and she had no side-effects.
All Sibo knows of her recipient is that the patient is a South African child. 'It meant a lot to me to know that I was saving a little person's life,' she says. The donation was especially poignant for her family, who had lost her great aunt to leukaemia shortly before her donation.
“I think it's one of the greatest things I've ever done. It's one of the best acts of humanity. If I'm healthy and in a position to grant the opportunity to live life fully to someone else, what an honour!”
For upcoming bone marrow donor drives, please seewww.sabmr.co.za or find 'South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR)' on Facebook.
To register as a bone marrow donor, please phone 021-447-8638, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the SA Bone Marrow Registry
Every year, hundreds of South Africans with blood diseases such as leukaemia reach the point where their only chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant. For about 30% of patients, a matched donor can be found in their own family; for the other 70%, their only hope is to find a matched unrelated donor identified by the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR). An internationally recognised registry, this non-profit organisation has over 73,000 donors on its database, and through its participation with Bone Marrow Donors worldwide it has access to over 32 million donors.
What is bone marrow?
Bone marrow tissue produces red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection and platelets to prevent bleeding. After a transplant, the donor's bone marrow stem cells travel to cavities in the recipient's large bones and starts producing normal blood.
Why are more donors needed?
The chance of finding a compatible donor is just one in 100,000. Far more local donors are needed, particularly black donors, as South Africa has a very genetically diverse population and a match is usually found within the same ethnic group as a patient. Every additional donor registered – and that could be you – is a potential life-saver for someone in need.
Who can register as a bone marrow donor?
Any healthy person between the age of 18 and 45 may register as a bone marrow donor. To join the registry, please phone 021-447-8638, email email@example.com or go to www.sabmr.co.za.
Find out more about the SABMR: This non-profit organisation relies on donations to continue its life-saving work. See www.sabmr.co.za. To make a financial contribution, click the 'Donate' button.
You could win a copy of An Uncommon Gift: The story of the South African Bone Marrow Registry and the lives changed by stem cell donation.
Simply send your name and contact details to the UWC Media, Marketing and Communications office - firstname.lastname@example.org. Published to mark the SABMR's 25th birthday, the book details the founding and achievements of the SABMR, and includes the stories of some patients and donors, as well a selection of heart-warming anonymous letters exchanged between donors and recipients. The book is available for sale (R200) at www.sabmr.co.za.