Stem cell donor: Son gives father a second shot at life

Kuda Madinyenya
Kuda Madinyenya saved his father's life with his stem cell donation

When doctors told 65-year-old Simbarashe Madinyenya that he only had a year to live, he never thought his son would be the one to give him a lifeline by becoming a stem cell donor.

Madinyenya was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 2009. Doctors had warned then that there would come a time when the treatments and chemo may no longer work. Eleven years later, they told him that unless a stem cell donor was found, he’d only have a year left to live.

Running out of options

“I had already accepted my situation. The doctors searched for a donor for six years without success. They even checked the USA donor database but there was no suitable donor,” said Madinyenya.

Kuda Madinyenya clearly remembers when his father started to become ill.

“He used to get fatigued most of the time and sometimes he would be vomiting and his nose bled. When test results showed he had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, it shocked us as a family,” said Kuda.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. The term ‘’chronic’’ in chronic lymphocytic leukemia comes from the fact that this leukemia typically progresses at a slower rate.

Leukaemia ‘a new word’ to us

“We did not know anything about this condition. Leukaemia was a new word to us. As I watched this disease take its toll on my father, I wished I could do more for this man that I love so much,” said Kuda.

When doctors said they failed to find a match for a blood stem cell donor, Kuda quickly registered with DKMS Africa, formerly known as the Sunflower Fund. Only 30% of patients are able to find a donor within their families.

A sample of his bone marrow was taken and within a short period of time, he received an email.

Renewed hope

“When doctors told me that my son could be a donor, I was very hopeful. My child was my only option,” said Madinyenya.

Kuda was sent for blood tests to check for infectious diseases. This was followed by self-injections for three days before he went to the hospital to make the donation.

“Before I became a blood stem cell donor, I did not really know or understand how the process works. I thought I was going to undergo an operation and that there would be side effects in the future. However, the process wasn’t painful or scary at all, just a little longer than I expected,” said Kuda.

DKMS Africa says in 90% of cases, stem cells are collected peripherally (apheresis). This involves taking stem cells directly from the bloodstream. Once collected, these collected blood stem cells are transplanted to the patient – a procedure similar to a blood transfusion.

Procedure explained

Country Executive Director for DKMS Africa, Alana James, said the actual donation happens through a needle placed into the donor’s arm and the blood is circulated through an apheresis machine. This machine acts as a filter to remove the blood stem cells and then the remaining blood is returned through a venous line in the other arm. The whole process takes approximately 4-6 hours, and one can return to work within a day or two.

“Some people with blood-related diseases such as leukaemia reach a time in their lives where the only chance of survival is a blood stem cell transplant from a donor with the same tissue type. The chances of finding a donor who shares the same tissue type is 1:100 000 – which is why Kuda’s excitement about being able to help his father was so intense,” said James.

Become a donor

Kuda now encourages everyone to consider becoming a donor in order to save more lives.

“It’s not a difficult process. It only took about five hours, but the process was quite smooth, and I did not feel any pain. There is nothing to be afraid of, no pain, no complications,” said Kuda.

If you want to know more about becoming a stem cell donor visit Health-e News


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