LIFESAVING DONATION, LIFELONG FRIENDSHIP
Every year on the anniversary of his transplant, Paul Mouton phones his old friend Francois, the man who saved his life.
Francois Dreyer registered as a donor in July 2002, when a friend of his was diagnosed with leukaemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, his friend found a donor in Switzerland—and soon afterwards, a patient right here in South Africa found their miracle donor, too: Francois.
In January 2003, Francois, a farmer from Malmesbury, got a call from the SABMR informing him that he was a probable match for a local patient, Paul Mouton. Four months later, he donated. The transplant was a success, preventing a probable relapse of Paul’s leukaemia—which may have proven fatal.
A relapse is when cancer returns after it has been pushed into remission, usually because a few cancer cells survived the treatment but were too small or hidden to see during cancer scans. Relapses can be even more dangerous than the initial illness, so physicians will often begin searching for bone marrow donors even when a patient is in remission, as bone marrow transplants can often cure the cancer for good and prevent relapses.
About 10 years after his donation, the SABMR asked Francois if he’d be interested in meeting his patient, Paul, and he agreed. He and Paul have been friends ever since.
Now, every year on the anniversary of Paul’s transplant, Paul gives Francois a call to thank him for his donation and catch up on the last year. In May 2020, when celebrating 17 healthy years since his transplant, Paul joked with Francois that he had just turned 17 years old. Paul is now 56, living in Stellenbosch.
“We don’t get to speak frequently, but the bond is much deeper than that,” Paul says of Francois. “What he’s done for me is beyond words. I can never repay him in this life for what he’s done for me.”
A few years ago, when driving through Calitzdorp on his way to Jeffrey’s Bay, Francois popped into a coffee shop. Remembering that Paul’s parents lived in town, he casually inquired of the barista if she knew the Mouton family. “She told me that the mother was in the coffee shop right then having tea with a friend,” Francois remembers. “She took me to her, and I said, ‘I am Francois Dreyer.’ She was so happy to see me.” Coming back through Calitzdorp a few days later, Francois stopped in to have lunch with Paul’s mother and father.
What a great moment to be able to share with the people who raised the man you helped save. I’m sure it was a very emotional meeting! We are very proud of you, Francois, for your selfless decision to save a stranger’s life.
A new friend wasn’t the only impact Francois’ donation had on his life. A lifelong smoker, things changed for Francois the day he donated for Paul. “Looking at the little bag of bone marrow there,” he says, “I thought if that guy, being as sick as he was, was doing whatever he could to get healthy, I can try to stop smoking.”
And he did. Francois has been smoke-free for over 14 years now, inspired by his donation. Francois says, “If you don’t have a reason to stop smoking, you won’t stop. Now I had my reason.” His reason was Paul.
Despite his lifesaving act, Francois gives credit for Paul’s life to someone else: the SABMR. “We as donors are not the heroes,” he says. “It’s the people working for the Registry. They give more than we do. They are doing the hard job. We only go lay down and donate. They did all the work before that.”
“I can’t express to you how I feel about the people working at the Registry,” Francois says. “They are one-of-a-kind. If not for them, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Francois, you are one-of-a-kind! Thank you for your kind words—but most importantly, for your incredible compassion for a stranger in need. The only way we can build a world in which we can all count on help from a stranger, is by being willing to step up when we hear the call to help another in their time of need. And that is just what you did when you decided to join the Registry. May your light continue to shine on the world!
The SABMR will forever be grateful to you and your family. We wish you—and all of the patients, donors, and supporters we are lucky enough to work with every day—a happy and healthy new year.