Climbing for bone marrow awareness

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Two hikers will climb the mighty Mafadi in the Drakensberg, South Africa’s highest mountain peak, to raise awareness of life-threatening blood disorders.

Clayton Coetzee, a 30-year-old bone marrow donor from Cape Town and Gavin Raubenheimer, an expert mountaineer from KwaZulu-Natal will ascend the Mafadi peak, via a route up Judge Pass (in the Central Drakensberg).

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Clayton Coetzee, an adventurer and bone marrow donor from Cape Town will climb the majestic Mafadi peak in the Drakensberg to raise awareness of blood disorders. Picture: Supplied

The duo will start on Monday at an altitude of 1 470m from Injisuthi Camp. They will then hike for about five hours till they reach Centenary Hut where they’ll spend the night.

Day two’s adventures will see the hikers ascend to Drakensberg escarpment and then summit Mafadi at a height of 3 451m above sea level.

“Bone marrow donation is close to my heart as one of my dearest friends got sick with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) several years ago. It’s then when I heard about the SA Bone Marrow Registry and I decided to sign up as a donor,” said Coetzee.

He said that once people realise how easy it is to become a donor and that no needles are involved, they are more likely to take up the challenge. “All that is required is a simple cheek swab. Should you be matched up with a patient, it’s almost as easy as giving blood,” he added.

Coetzee told Weekend Argus that the hike’s motivation is two-fold – The uphill battle of the patients post diagnosis and the need to find a donor, the treatments and then the recovery.

“It’s a long process that puts the patient under tremendous strain but through perseverance and hope they can overcome it,” he added.

The duo will carry 15-17kg of weight during the hike.

Raubenheimer said that being able to actively advocate for bone marrow donation during this climb, is a privilege. “I hope the hike encourages and inspires the public to become donors,” he said.

The 55-year-old said that possible challenges could be bad weather and visibility. “There has been some recent snow on the Drakensberg. We’re expecting some snow on Judges Pass and on top of Mafadi. This could cause some problems,” he said.

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Expert mountaineer, Gavin Raubenheimer, will guide Clayton Coetzee (bone marrow donor) along the 3 451m high climb. Picture: Supplied

He added that the hike will involve a circular route that goes through large mountains and is usually covered in five days of hard walking, but this time round, they’ll be attempting it in three days.

Compared to all cancers, blood cancer cases have been increasing at a much faster pace, according to search coordinator for the SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) Alicia Venter.

“In the past decade, the global incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and leukemia increased by 45% and 26% respectively,” she said.

Finding a donor is much more complicated than finding a blood match. The important factor in finding a suitable match is the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) – a complex set of genes in a person’s DNA that regulates immunity, explained Venter.

“These genes play a crucial role in whether the body accepts or rejects a transplant. Sadly, in many cases matches aren’t found, which is partly due to a lack of donor diversity,” she stressed.

She said that there is a need for donors of colour. “When it comes to matching HLA types, a patient’s ethnicity plays an important role as HLA markers are inherited. Some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others, therefore finding a match is most likely to come from someone of the same ethnic group.”

To follow their journey to the top of Mafadi, see https://www.facebook.com/sabonemreg/

If you are between the ages of 18 and 45 and want to become a donor, contact the SABMR on 021 447 8638 or email: donors@sabmr.co.za.

Weekend Argus

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