DKMS celebrates 100,000 second chances at life

Cape Town, May 10, 2022 – Today, DKMS celebrates a significant milestone in the organisation’s history: 100,000 second chances at life provided to a patient with blood cancer or another blood disorder. For the international nonprofit organisation, this wonderful accomplishment is far more than a number or a benchmark: every single second chance at life represents a patient and their personal story. These are the stories of people, both young and old, of their families and friends, stories of shattering sadness and fear, and stories of hope and overwhelming joy as well as another 100,000 donor stories.

There are stories of patients like Zyaan Makda from Cape Town. Zyaan was diagnosed with Thalassemia in 2007 at the tender age of four. While waiting for a donor, she relied on blood transfusions every two weeks. As a result of the treatments, the veins in her hands collapsed and she had a port put in her chest. She also experienced constant fatigue. In spite of all the challenges, she always remained positive and upbeat, always ready with a smile. After several years and numerous treatments, Zyaan received a blood stem cell transplant in 2018, at the age of 16-years-old. 2021 saw Zyaan resume school, 4 years post-transplant. “Thank you to my donor for choosing to register; for being so selfless and – above all – thank you for saving my life. I am one of the lucky ones, but many patients still need to find their match. I would like to encourage all South Africans to take the brave step and register to potentially save someone like me who just wants a chance at tomorrow.”

Stories like Zyaan’s, along with all the 100,000 other stories of the second chances at life, are a powerful reminder of the impact the organisation’s work has on patients, their families and friends. “It is what motivates us every day in our life-saving mission,” says Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global Chief Executive Officer at DKMS. “Every 27 seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer. Every year thousands of families hear the heartbreaking news that their loved one will need a blood stem cell transplant to survive. 100,000 second chances at life are thus a strong signal of hope for all those facing the toughest moment of their lives.”

“In 1991 we founded DKMS in honor of my mother, who suffered from leukemia, and her legacy which inspires us until today: that every patient in need of a blood stem cell transplant finds a matching donor who can give them a second chance at life. In the past 31 years we have worked tirelessly to make this vision come true. We are proud to announce that this year we have reached an incredible milestone: DKMS donors have provided 100,000 second chances at life to patients all over the world. It is my big dream that every patient has that chance and that other families do not have to feel the devastating pain of losing a loved one,” says Katharina Harf, Chairwoman of the DKMS Foundation Board.

The work of registering donors and facilitating transplants is inherently a team effort and every life saved is due to the collaboration, dedication, and passion of every single individual involved along the way: Every donor who has given a patient a second chance, every one of the
11 million potential donors who are registered with DKMS and provide hope to patients in need, and the countless volunteers who are dedicated to creating a world without blood cancer. “We honour all patients and their families and friends as well as all physicians and nurses, who take the best possible care of patients and who are such an essential part of this process. We would also like to thank each and every donor and potential donor for their efforts at deleting blood cancer,” says Interim Country Manager and Head of Corporate Communications of DKMS Africa, Palesa Mokomele.

Ethnic diversity saves lives

100,000 second chances at life is also an impressive achievement that only becomes more impressive, when considering that it took DKMS 24 years to reach 50,000 second chance at life in 2015. Within just seven years the organisation has now doubled that number. DKMS was only able to accomplish this so quickly because the organisation expanded its footprint and is now active in seven countries on five continents. Every day, 21 DKMS donors from Germany, the USA, Poland, the UK, Chile, South Africa, and India, where DKMS operates together with BMST, donate blood stem cells for patients all over the world. Blood stem cell donations from DKMS donors haven given people in 57 countries a second chance at life.

One crucial factor in the success of a blood stem cell transplant is the degree of match between the tissue characteristics of donor and patient. Since tissue characteristics vary according to both genetics and region, the organisation is doing everything possible to register as many donors of different ethnicities and nationalities as possible. Having a genetically diverse database of donors is necessary to ensure that all patients have the chance to find their genetic match. “As DKMS Africa we have a long journey ahead to ensure that every patient has a matching donor. Due to the lack of Black, Indian and Coloured donors on the global registry, it is rare that patients from these ethnic groups make it to transplant. We need more people of these demographics to register. Only together can we make a real impact in the lives of patients across the globe,” says Mokomele.

Improving patients’ outcome

The only effective way to address blood cancer and other life-threatening blood disorders is with a macro perspective. Innovative scientific research is a key factor to improve the healing chances for patients. “We constantly optimise our own work, conduct our own clinical trials and invest in research projects on an international level to make blood stem cell transplants a lasting success for patients. Our research focuses on three key areas: the optimisation of our donor pool, advancing donor selection, and improving cell therapy and transplantation,” says Dr. Alexander Schmidt, Global Chief Medical Officer at DKMS.

DKMS support programs for patients from low- and middle-income countries

To improve the situation of patients in low-and middle-income countries, DKMS has also expanded its efforts to increase access to transplantation. “If we want to prevent families from suffering the loss of a loved one, we need to help, where help is needed! For a second chance at life, we cross borders, collaborate globally, and leave no stone unturned to help patients. Every patient with blood cancer or a life-threatening blood disease deserves that chance. Thus, we have established several support programs to increase the access to transplantation for patients living in emerging countries,” highlights Dr. Elke Neujahr.

The cost of treatment is financially draining for patients, especially for those who do not have medical aid. Due to DKMS ‘s assistance with access to transplant, it removes the financial burden from patients who cannot afford this treatment option.

An example of one such patient is 36-year-old Monni Thabo Maleka, who was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia (X-linked Sideroblastic Anaemia). He is in desperate need of a donor but this is not all he has to worry about as his financial well-being has also been affected. At times Thabo has passed up on work opportunities as his illness has had an impact on his self-esteem and mental well-being. The countless trips to the hospital have also been financially draining for him and his family.

Thabo is an extrovert who enjoys cooking, baking, his work as an electrician, and loves spending time with his family. A matching blood stem cell donor will grant him the gift of enjoying these simple pleasures that we all deserve.

Register as a lifesaver today

Reaching 100,000 second chances at life is an incredible accomplishment. However, the organisation’s work will not be done until every patient in need of a transplant gets that second chance. With that in mind DKMS wants to encourage the public to become part of its lifesaving movement by registering as a potential lifesaver today. “It is my vision for DKMS that we will have 20 million donors registered with us and that we will be active in 20 countries by 2030 to celebrate 200,000 second chance at life,” Neujahr says in conclusion.

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