Now in its 20 th year, The Sunflower Fund brings a wealth of expertise in the recruitment of stem cell donors and building an ethnically diverse registry of committed donors from across South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Nigeria. The organisation also maintains a patient support fund to assist patients who are unable to afford costs associated with getting to transplant.
“We are very excited about the partnership with DKMS. Growing the diversity of the donor pool is critically important and we see a fantastic opportunity to be able to do this together not only in South Africa but also in other African countries. We want to register as many potential donors to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life. This is our common mission,” says Alana James, CEO of the Sunflower Fund partnered by DKMS.
The Sunflower Fund and DKMS were both founded from a personal story – of families losing a loved one, who committed to using their experience to champion the cause of stem cell donation to help other families that would in the future find themselves in the same position.
The formation of The Sunflower Fund in 1999, was inspired by the heroic struggle against leukaemia of two brave young men, Darren Serebro and Chris Corlett. While he was in treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), Chris Corlett painted a picture, which he titled ‘Sunflowers of Hope’. This was the main inspiration for the name of The Sunflower Fund, by his mom Tina Botha the founder of the organisation.
The DKMS story began when Mechtild Harf was told that the only treatment for her leukaemia was a bone marrow transplant and that she had no matching family members. At the time, there were only 3,000 potential stem cell donors on the German registry to provide a transplant. Her husband Peter Harf founded DKMS in 1991 and within one year, the registry counted 68,000 potential donors. Unfortunately, Mechtild did not survive, but before she passed away, she made Peter promise her that he would not stop fighting until every patient had a matching donor.
In different corners of the world, the fate of these people started a movement, a community of people committed to one cause: fighting blood cancer.
“Diseases do not respect borders, nor can our work be restricted by borders,” adds James.
“Every life saved is a success – all over the world. We are driven by a simple ethos: to best serve our patients, we cannot simply address the problem at hand, but must look to the future to anticipate the needs of the people whose lives rely on our work,” says Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global CEO DKMS.
“Facing the realities of genetic diversification and the subsequent role it will play in cancer treatments, global activities ensure the greatest chance of success for patients whose lives depend on finding a matching donor. Together we want to make a big impact in the lives of patients with blood disorders in South Africa and across the globe,” Neujahr continues.
With almost 10 million available donors and nearly 85,000 transplants facilitated, DKMS is the largest network of donor centers in the world. The impact of the organisation is remarkable, with 40% of all unrelated blood stem cell transplants worldwide made possible by DKMS donors. This collaboration enables DKMS to contribute their experience in raising awareness of blood cancer and blood stem cell transplantation, of running an international registry and providing high quality blood stem cell products bringing hope to people all over the world.