“If you are from African descent, the chances of finding a 8/8 unrelated match is 19%,” HRSA Registry Models Report, 2017.
“By 2050, 1 in 4 people on earth will be African,” UN World Population Prospectus, 2015.
The journeys of The Sunflower Fund and DKMS began similarly: in different corners of the world, the fate of patients suffering from leukaemia started a movement, a community of people committed to one cause: fighting blood cancer and life threatening blood disorders.
DKMS was founded more than 30 years ago in Germany, while The Sunflower Fund was inspired by the heroic struggle against leukaemia of two brave young men, Darren Serebro (1997) and Chris Corlett (2000). 17-year-old Chris Corlett completed the original ‘Sunflowers of Hope’ painting whilst being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Chris’ mother, Tina Botha, gained inspiration from the painting and aptly named the organisation, The Sunflower Fund (TSF). Tina held the CEO role for thirteen years and made the transition to founder patron in 2013. Tina’s daughter, Tarryn Corlett, assumed the role of CEO until August 2015.
DKMS Africa’s Country Executive Director, Alana James, was first appointed CEO of The Sunflower Fund in September 2015. She has brought a wealth of experience from a career spanning nearly two decades in the corporate and non-government sectors across South Africa and Africa. Alana built her extensive experience through running her own entrepreneurial and business ventures. She serves on boards across education, environmental and business boards and is also a business coach.
Upon assuming the CEO role, Alana’s primary goal has been spent on growing the brand and on growing awareness of stem cell and blood cancer disorders in the South African population. Alana has grown the brand to be a major force in the international arena.
In March 2018, the organisation became a Provisional Registry with the World Marrow Donor Association.
In 2020 a ground-breaking partnership with DKMS was formed, resulting in the formation of DKMS Africa – officially becoming the seventh entity under the DKMS brand – and the first in the African continent. DKMS Africa is a game-changer for South African and continent wide cancer sufferers and enables us to extend our reach access within the global Stem Cell (bone marrow) registry network.
The DKMS story began with one family fighting to save someone they loved. When Mechtild Harf was told that the only treatment for her leukaemia was a bone marrow transplant, she had no matching family members. At the time, there were only 3,000 potential stem cell donors on the German registry to provide a transplant. Confronted by the knowledge that his wife faced difficult odds in finding a matching donor, her husband Peter decided to apply his prolific business skills to the question of how to give his wife and patients like her the best chance at survival. The answer seemed clear: more unrelated donors meant better chances for all patients in need.
Peter founded DKMS with his wife’s transplant physician, Gerhard Ehninger, on the 28th of May 1991 and in their first year of operations they managed to expand the registry from 3,000 donors to 68,000. Despite the Harf family’s best efforts, Mechtild ultimately did not survive. However, before she passed away she made Peter promise her that he would not stop fighting until every patient had a matching donor and a potential second chance at life. Since then Peter and his daughter Katharina Harf, the Vice Chairwoman of the DKMS Foundation Board, have kept that promise. Motivated by the fate of their wife and mother, by 1995 Katharina and Peter had helped build DKMS into the world’s largest stem cell donor registry. Ever since every member of the international DKMS Group has worked tirelessly to fulfill their mission – to provide as many blood cancer patients as possible with a second chance at life.
Today DKMS operates in seven countries and has over 10.5 million registered donors. The organisation has given more than 91,000 second chances at life by providing blood stem cell donations to patients in 57 countries.