Two taxi drivers desperately need stem cell donors

Stem call donors to treat life-threatening blood disorders are desperately needed.

Stem call donors to treat life-threatening blood disorders are desperately needed.

Published Jun 16, 2024


Durban — Taxi drivers are the lifeblood of the South African economy, transporting about 15 million commuters each day, and now two drivers hope to tap into this market to save their lives.

KwaZulu-Natal taxi drivers Qaphelani and Sfundo, who asked to withhold their surnames, have been diagnosed with life-threatening blood disorders and desperately need matching stem cell donors to give them a second lease on life.

DKMS Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders, say in South Africa blood cancers are 20-50% more common in men than in women, and a stem cell transplant from a matching donor is often their best chance of survival.

The organisation’s community engagement and communications head, Palesa Mokomele, said unlike the rest of the world, South Africa had more male stem cell donors (76%) compared with females (24%). Men also produced nearly double the number of stem cells since their bodies tended to be bigger.

“A larger number of donated stem cells generally translates to a higher chance of transplant success,” said Mokomele.

“Recipients of stem cells from male donors are also less likely to develop graft-versus-host disease ( a post-transplant immune response that sees the donor’s stem cells mistakenly attacking the patient’s own cells).”

Mokomele said male patients who received stem cells from male donors tended to experience better outcomes.

“These include a higher chance of survival and reduced risk of serious side effects from the transplant. The same challenge applies to female patients. While, fortunately, fewer women are diagnosed with blood cancers in South Africa, the limited number of donors of this gender on the registry is cause for concern. Growing a diverse donor pool is crucial for all patients.”

Mokomele said male donors were usually more likely to be available to donate because pregnancy temporarily disqualified women from donating, which had an impact on the pool of potential donors.

Qaphelani and Sfundo are undergoing treatment at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital but need a stem cell transplant to save their lives. They hope they’ll find matching donors among others in the taxi industry or the millions of commuters who rely on it every day.

Constant fatigue, difficulty breathing and persistent chest pains drove Sfundo, 29, to seek medical attention. He was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia last year, a rare but serious blood disorder in which the body stops producing enough new blood cells.

The sole breadwinner in his family, Sfundo is unable to work and provide because of his frequent trips to hospital for treatment while a suitable donor is being sought for a potentially life-saving transplant. He endures his treatments alone because no one at home has the financial means to accompany him.

“I’m praying for a matching donor to register. My life hangs on that one person who is willing to take the first step that will allow me to get well, return to my family and support them,” he said.

For Qaphelani, also the main breadwinner, it’s a constant struggle to scrape together enough money to travel to hospital for treatment. He also doesn’t have the means to support his two children. Qaphelani was diagnosed with T-acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, an aggressive blood cancer that affects the bone marrow, and patients manifest with bleeding gums, loss of energy and rapid weight loss.

“My children witness my struggle with low energy every day, asking how they can make me feel better. It’s painful to have them see me in this way.”

Mokomele said while taxi drivers as a whole had a reputation for being notoriously tough, blood cancers and blood disorders could affect even the hardiest of individuals.

“I would like to implore all South Africans who are in good health and are between the ages of 17 and 55 to register as stem cell donors and help save the lives of people like Qaphelani and Sfundo, who are literally the driving force behind the country’s economy.”

Independent on Saturday