Saving a life—and gaining a sister
Petronella du Bruyn, a broker from Polokwane, Limpopo, had been a regular blood donor prior to joining the South African Bone Marrow Registry. In 2013, after hearing about the lack of South African stem cell donors during one of the Registry’s awareness campaigns, Petronella decided to register to be a donor. Less than a year later, she would get the call: she was a match for a patient in need, which meant she had the opportunity to save someone’s life.
When asked what it meant to her to be a donor, Petronella explained, “It’s difficult to find words to describe it. Emotional. Scary. Fantastic. It meant the world to me. The knowledge that you may save someone’s life is overwhelming and humbling.” What an amazing feeling! I’m a registered donor myself, and I am eagerly waiting in hopes that a call will arrive for me to donate to a patient in need. What a special blessing to be called upon to help save a life.
The same year Petronella joined the Registry, Elmarie, a mother and former principal at a school for the disabled in Roodepoort, Gauteng, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). The severity of her condition meant that a bone marrow transplant would be the last resort and needed to happen as soon as possible. All members of her family were tested but no related match was found, so the SABMR quickly kicked off an international unrelated donor search. The worldwide search discovered Petronella right here in South Africa, who after further testing was confirmed to be a 100% match for Elmarie. The transplant was conducted in June 2014.
Before a match was found, Elmarie’s greatest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to watch her daughter grow up. Thankfully, the transplant successfully cured Elmarie of her lymphoma and she is now cancer free, spending lots of time gardening, reading, and walking with friends. She continued her training in open water swimming after her transplant and is actively involved in a number of social welfare projects in Caledon, where she now lives.
In June 2019 in Bloubergstrand, Elmarie and Petronella were finally able to meet. It was an emotional gathering for them both, and they were grateful for the opportunity to share stories about the transplant and get to know each other.
“I had never dreamt of meeting my donor,” Elmarie said. “I just didn’t think it was possible. The phone call inviting me to the meeting was overwhelming. My gratitude to Petronella had no measure.”
Of the moment she met Petronella, Elmarie explained, “It was an indescribable moment to meet the selfless and caring person who granted me another chance at a full and happy life again. She will never know the extent to which she replenished my life and gave me a new perspective on living. I have a sister from another mother.” Petronella and Elmarie remain close friends and speak often.
Petronella calls Elmarie her “other half.”
SABMR Director Dr. Charlotte Ingram and SABMR Donor Welfare Officer Clarice Cairncross were both in attendance. Cairncross said that the pair’s meeting brought to mind a quote from Maya Angelou: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”It sounds like this meeting was such a special event to be a part of. I know I speak for everyone at the Registry when I say that these precious moments are a gift to everyone involved, including us! We take pride in helping patients find their miracle match, and to see one of those matches not only save a life, but also blossom into a lifelong friendship, is almost too beautiful to be believed.
May your sisterhood grow from strength to strength, Petronella and Elmarie. You will always be dear to us here at the SABMR!
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