Cape Town cancer survivor meets woman who saved his life

First published in Cape Argus on September 19, 2013

Chris Mattinson was 46 years old when he was first diagnosed with leukaemia and was given three months to live.

Now aged 57, Mattinson has met the woman who donated the bone marrow that eventually saved his life.

Melanie Wengorz-Hüsch, 37, was flown to Cape Town from her home in Germany by the South African Bone Marrow Registry to meet him as part of the registry’s 21st anniversary.

Mattinson said on Wednesday that when the registry told him about its plans to introduce him to his donor, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to do it.

“When they first contacted me, I thought they would give me her contact details, maybe an e-mail, or we could Skype, or something. But actually, they were bringing her out here.

“They have a whole host of people that they can choose to link up, but somehow or the other they said: ‘Let’s choose him and let’s choose her.’ The chances of that are so small.”

He said meeting Wengorz-Hüsch this week was inspirational, emotional and wonderful because he was not expecting it.

The pair had lunch at Kirstenbosch Gardens, and on Wednesday night they met again at the registry’s celebrations, which took place at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Speaking through a translator, Wengorz-Hüsch said that donating her bone marrow stem cells was an easy procedure that she had never imagined would bring her to the other side of the world to meet the person whose life she had helped to save.

She donated through the German bone marrow registry in 2003.

“The donation itself took a few hours and it was not painful. A needle is inserted into your arm, as though you are donating blood, and that is it.”

She said when she got a call at her home outside Cologne in Germany to ask her if she wanted to meet Mattinson, she thought it was a joke.

“I was shocked and overwhelmed, then I immediately called my husband and family members… everyone said I should go for it.”

Wengorz-Hüsch said meeting Mattinson made her donation, all those years ago, worthwhile, and she would encourage others to do the same.

Romy Saitowiz, fund-raising and marketing manager for the registry, said that there were only 65 000 donors on the local registry, but because South Africa worked with international partners, it gave the registry access to 20 million donors from across the world.

She said in Mattinson’s case a donor could not be found for him locally and Wengorz-Hüsch was found after a search was done overseas.

“Germany has about three million donors on their registry and about 30 percent of South African patients get German donors.”

Saitowiz said the registry was hoping to encourage more people to become donors, especially Africans, because those were the most difficult donors to find around the world.

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