Chatting to Tina Botha
After losing her own son to leukaemia, Tina Botha formed the Sunflower Fund in an effort to prevent this happening to others.
We chat to this inspiring CEO, and Women of the Year nominee in the health care-givers category, about her heart-wrenching journey and the profound impact she has made to leukaemia and blood disorder patients in South Africa.
What exactly is the Sunflower Fund?
The Sunflower Fund’s is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to educate and recruit potential bone marrow stem cell donors. Every year thousands of South Africans, mostly children and teenagers, are diagnosed with blood disorders such a leukaemia and marrow failure. The large majority of these patients don’t find a sibling-matched donor and require a donor from a registry. The donor’s bone marrow stem cells are infused into the patient’s blood stream and if accepted begin producing normal blood cells.
Tell us about your son’s journey and how you came to start the Sunflower Fund?
Chris was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 1997 and after a 3 year battle he passed away on 10 September 2000. Chris’s heroic struggle against leukaemia inspired the formation of the Sunflower Fund. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about him and how much I miss him. He died a month before his 18th birthday and Chris would be turning 30 on 12 October this year, if he was still with us. A lot of people asked me how I could continue to do the work I was doing after losing Chris, but my answer was how could I not? When Chris relapsed the first time, he had to have another transplant. A donor could not be found on the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) as the list was small. I knew I had to improve the situation so that other families may have the opportunity of a life-saving transplant. In 1999 there were only about 800 donors on the SABMR and to date the registry has grown to over 64 500 donors.
How did you deal with this journey as a mother?
Watching your child suffer day after day is the most terrible experience in the world. All you can do is wish there was a way of taking his pain away. There was also an enormous strain put on my family as a whole as I still had to raise a baby who was only 12 months old at the time Chris was diagnosed. I also have a daughter, Tarryn, who was only 11 at the time.
What life lessons have you taken away since starting this organisation?
Chris taught me to live for today. He felt that we have all seen yesterday and that we cannot dwell or change the past. We also cannot see tomorrow so we shouldn’t waste time stressing about the future.
Tell us a bit about National Bandana Day?
National Bandana Day falls on Chris’s birthday, 12 October. All South African’s are encouraged to buy a R20 bandana in solidarity with leukaemia patients, who lose their hair through chemotherapy treatment. Bandanas are available at all Pick n Pay stores nationwide or from your local Round Table.
If someone is interested in becoming a donor, what can they do?
Firstly you need to be in excellent health and aged between 18 and 45. You can call our toll free donor recruitment number and register with one of our donor liaisons. You will then be directed to the closest blood clinic to have two test tubes of blood drawn. The sample is tissue typed to the international molecular (DNA) level. The results are placed onto the SABMR. If you are found to be a match for a patient, you will be called up to donate stem cells, which is similar to donating blood or platelets. These stem cells are ultimately what will save a patient’s life.
For more information on National Bandana Day and The Sunflower Fund, call the toll free line on 0800 12 10 82 or visit www.sunflowerfund.org.za.