One year ago, 12-year-old Joshua King was a very sick little boy. He had undergone gruelling chemotherapy and faced a long recovery following a bone marrow transplant. Today, Josh is back at school and once again able to take part in the sports he so loves, thanks to the generosity of a stranger who had registered as a bone marrow donor.
In June 2009, hospitals, doctors and angst filled Josh's days, but this June, it was an apple-cheeked, energetic boy who raced down Cape Town's Melkbosstrand on a Blokart, the land yacht that was introduced to South Africa in 2008.
Left: Josh with Top Billing presenter Michael Moll.
Although this was his first encounter with a Blokart, sporty Josh mastered the controls within 10 minutes and was soon manoeuvring the wind-powered, lightweight buggy over the sand.
The occasion was a Top Billing shoot that saw veteran presenter Michael Moll introducing the Blokart to South African viewers.
Josh's presence was a powerful reminder of the importance of the work done by the Sunflower Fund, the organisation that aims to grow the number of donors on the South African Bone Marrow Registry.
To mark its 10th anniversary, the Sunflower Fund and Blokart launched a national raffle at the beginning of this year. The lucky winner, to be chosen in January, will become the proud owner of a Blokart and join the ranks of South Africans who are embracing this new eco-friendly adventure sport.
When Top Billing approached Blokart with the idea of featuring the land yacht on the popular magazine programme, Cape Town dealer Mark Tedder immediately thought of inviting Josh as a testimony to the important work being done by the Sunflower Fund.
The Durbanville boy, a Grade Seven pupil at Gene Louw Primary, was almost 11 when he was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma - a rare blood disorder that attacks the lymph nodes and bone marrow.
"At first they thought he just had a blocked stomach due to an unhealthy lifestyle, even though he was very active and ate well," says his father, Peter.
When a stomach flush failed to alleviate the problem, it was thought that perhaps the large intestine was overlapping the small intestine and a minor operation was scheduled.
The day before his surgery, on July 19, Josh watched Manchester United play Kaizer Chiefs at Newlands. His only symptoms were a sore stomach and slight nausea and he had no idea of the dramatic turn his life would take the next day when the routine procedure turned into a major operation. A cricket ball-sized tumour was found in Josh's abdomen and subsequently removed, along with 10cm of his colon.
Josh underwent 10 sessions of five-day chemo treatments between August 2008 and April 2009 and at the beginning of May last year, was announced to be in remission. The search for a bone marrow donor then started.
"Joshua was very lucky to find two perfect match donors in Germany and the transplant took place on July 1, 2009," explains Peter.
'A spunky child'
Twenty-nine days of hospitalisation followed and it took a further five months for Josh to recover from the procedure.
"He was unable to go to school for one-and-a-half years although he did manage to keep up with key subjects and was able to start Grade 7 with his peers at the beginning of this year," recounts Peter.
Despite the trauma he experienced, Josh remains a spunky child. "He has the great ability to be positive and got on with life as best he could. He had to give up all contact sports (soccer, cricket, baseball and hockey) and water sports, including swimming and surfing, as he had a plastic line into his chest to administer the chemo drugs.
"Fortunately, he did manage to carry on playing golf and doing some motocross and BMX riding when he could. Joshua's doctor always said that he should carry on living, which was a great guide for Kim (Josh's mom) and me when deciding whether or not he could do something."
Not many sufferers of blood disorders are as lucky as Josh, and tragically, the search for a matching donor often takes far too long.
Matching donors hard to find
Chris Moir, the Sunflower Fund's Western Cape PR co-ordinator, says that finding a matching donor is a daunting task. It is their aim to increase the number of bone marrow donors to help save more lives. "In order to do this, we need funds as it costs between R300 and R1 000 to test each new donor, and a minimum of about 100 000 donors representative of all our ethnic groups are needed," says Chris.
She picked Josh up from school on the day of the Top Billing shoot and accompanied him to Melkbosstrand and says he is 'a very together young man' who has remained active and upbeat.
"A healthy lifestyle and positive attitude to getting better through sport and exercise is important to any person who has been ill," she says.
"Please support those suffering from leukaemia and other blood disorders by purchasing a ticket for a Blokart and you could soon join those who love to feel the wind through their hair as they blow along the beach!"
If you want to register as a donor, call 0800 12 10 82 or visit www.sunflowerfund.org.za. For a R20 Blokart ticket, contact Mark Tedder at 083 658 8583 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.