Reza’s bone marrow search

Reza Price

Reza Price has had many blood transfusions at Groote Schuur Hospital over the years to help him fight a rare blood disorder, but what he really needs is a bone-marrow transplant.

The 20-year-old from Athlone, who loves cycling, movies, gaming and spending time with his mates, is a former Westerford High pupil.

He is studying a BA at UWC, though, right now, he’s taking a gap year to help his dad, Zeine Price, in his electrical business.

Reza has been on a nine-year-long search for a bone-marrow donor.

“I was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia a week after I turned 12, which is a blood disorder that acts and looks like cancer but can’t be treated as such. It can only be cured with a bone-marrow transplant,” he says.

“My bone marrow is failing to make blood cells and platelets, which makes me highly prone to the flu and precludes any strenuous activity or sports like soccer and cricket.”

In 2012, Reza had a nosebleed that lasted for two months, and doctors started preparing him for the worst, but he pulled through.

He is registered with the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) but a matching donor has remained elusive.

According to SABMR, the chances of finding a donor are usually about one in 100 000.

But Reza’s chances are even slimmer because he has a rare tissue type.

“It’s a well-known fact that it’s harder to find a match for patients of ‘mixed race’, such as our coloured population,” says SABMR’s search coordinator, Alicia Venter.

“We’re looking for someone in the world who has the exact same genetic component as him, and it’s really rare.

“In the US, for example, stem-cell registries struggle to find matches for patients who have mixed Hawaiian-Caucasian or mixed black-Hispanic ancestry.”

The SABMR’s automated electronic system connects with international registries at midnight every day to check whether a new donor added anywhere in the world is a potential match for a patient in need.

Ms Venter says donors from under-represented population groups on the registry are urgently needed.

Dr Estelle Verburgh, consultant haematologist at Groote Schuur’s academic bone marrow transplant unit and one of Reza’s specialists, agrees.

“It’s either a match or it’s not. We need thousands of new donors to come forward, especially black and coloured South Africans, to find matches for the South African pockets of genetics as seen in patients like Reza.”

Despite the challenges he faces, Reza hasn’t given up hope of finding a donor.

“The situation is that with my illness and its rarity, the tissue matching has to be near perfect or chances of my survival during the transplant are quite slim,” he says.

In the past four years, he has tried to live his life without worrying whether he can and or can’t do things other 20-year-olds do.

He says he is grateful for the support of his family and for meeting families and friends who have faced similar challenges.

Any healthy person aged 18 to 45 can register as a bone-marrow donor. Visit www.sabmr.co.za, call 021 447 8638 or email donors@sabmr.co.za for details.