South African patients suffering from Leukaemia and other blood disorders who need a life-saving stem cell transplant, rely on the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SAMBR) to find a donor who is a genetic match. 

But, the untrue and frightening belief that donating blood stem cells, or bone marrow, involves drilling through bones is a common misconception and is one of the challenges faced in growing the SAMBR.

These misconceptions, often stopping people from registering to become donors and giving someone the hope of life.

The Sunflower Fund educates, raises funds and recruits potential blood stem cell donors to this registry and pays for the tissue typing test cost for each person who joins.

The fund also prioritises educating people on the truths of becoming a donor and works hard to debunk any myths that exist. Sometimes it is just the words themselves that act as barriers. “The challenges faced in growing the SABMR lies in the sentence itself”, Alana James, CEO of the Sunflower Fund said. “It’s called ‘The South African Bone Marrow’ registry, so when people see the word ‘bone marrow’ they go ‘Oh no I can’t do that, it will hurt!’.

Blood stem cell donor and long-time supporter of the Sunflower Fund Carey Symons shares her own story at events and conferences, spreading the message that the process of potentially saving a life is not as scary as we might think, encouraging others to do the same.

“The stats of a perfect match are 1 in 100 000 so you can only imagine my joy in being that 1 in 100 000 and that I was able to contribute to giving someone a second chance,” Symons said, who was called ten years after joining the registry to donate her stem cells to a patient suffering from leukaemia.

The Durban mother travelled to Constantiaberg hospital in Cape Town, to begin a series of painless Neupogen injections which stimulate the production and release of blood stem cells.

After three days of injections, she was ready to begin the donation process: Two needles, similar to the ones used when donating blood, were inserted; one in each arm. Blood was drawn from one arm, circulated through a cell-separator machine where her stem cells were collected and the remaining blood was returned through the other arm.

After 4-6 hours, the life-saving stem cells were harvested and for Symons, the process was over.

She said she often thought about the person she donated her stem cells to and sometimes wonders who they were. “I realised that the day I signed as a donor, I was only hoping to make a difference. I will never know whose life I made a difference to, and part of that mystery excites me. It’s a blessing to give without knowing and without being thanked.”

There are just under 74 000 donors on the registry, but at least 400 000 are need. “We definitely still have a mountain to climb and are committedly doing so. Registering as a donor on the SABMR is a simple process and can be very rewarding,” James explained. “You could be someone’s perfect match.”

Find out more about becoming a blood stem cell a donor by contacting The Sunflower Fund on toll-free number: 0800 12 10 82 or visit

About The Sunflower Fund:

The Sunflower Fund, a South African Non-Profit Company (NPC), is dedicated to creating awareness, educating the public and handling the registration process for people to join the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR).

The Sunflower Fund pays for the test cost of people joining the SABMR. This is fundamental to saving the lives of thousands of South Africans each year. The chance of finding a matching donor is 1 in 100,000 – and as ethnic origin plays a significant role in the search for a donor, South Africa’s rainbow nation is at a distinct disadvantage, requiring a large pool of prospective donors.

Should you wish to become a donor, support one of the fundraising projects or make a financial contribution, please contact The Sunflower Fund on toll-free number:

0800 12 10 82. Visit to learn more or look out for the DONATE button to make a cash donation via the website.