By Toni Erasmus

Craig Ulster (10) and his family are from Wynberg, Cape Town. He is a courageous boy, fascinated by dinosaurs and dreams of someday discovering their ancient fossils. This little growing palaeontologist is also a mighty stage 3 Clear Cell Sarcoma cancer survivor. Clear Cell Sarcoma is a very rare form of soft tissue sarcoma. Because of many unknown heroes who willingly donated their life-saving blood and time, Craig’s life was saved.

“Craig was 4 years old when he grumbled about stomach pains, and I thought it was a stomach bug. When we took him to the doctor, we were told they had to do an emergency appendectomy as his appendix had ruptured. After waiting for about an hour, the doctor came back and told us that during the appendectomy, they discovered a ruptured tumour in his kidney that had caused internal bleeding; it was touch-and-go for us, and my son needed an immediate blood transfusion and another surgery to remove his right kidney, the tumour and adrenal gland – this is known as a radical nephrectomy.” says Taryn Ulster, Craig’s mother.

The family’s journey to health started on 5th October 2017, when they were plunged straight into medical tests and treatments. After his surgery, he was diagnosed with stage 3 Clear Cell Sarcoma of the Kidney (CCSK). He was then admitted to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, where he spent 7 months in the Oncology Unit, visiting the unit 3-4 days a week. Craig received a total of 24 chemotherapy treatments and a number of whole blood and platelet transfusions to help him cope with all the physical changes that came with cancer.

“We had so many delays during our journey because the chemotherapy treatments reduced his white and red blood cells or his platelet counts were too low. This meant he would often need whole blood or platelet transfusions before being discharged or receiving other treatments that he needed. Both my husband and I are so grateful for those who found it in their heart to donate blood. It is because of their willing hearts that our son’s life could be saved,” says Taryn.

Patients who undergo various cancer treatments need whole blood and platelets. Surgical procedures that treat cancer may also lead to blood loss, causing a need for red blood cells (a vital component that transports oxygen in the bloodstream). The majority of cancer treatments also directly affect the cells in the bone marrow – this place the patients at high risk for life-threatening infections and bleeding that can be fatal and life-changing. This is why your whole blood donation is needed.

Today both of Craig’s parents are donors; his dad donates whole blood and his mother donates plasma. This is their way to repay the gift of life to someone else in dire need of life-saving blood, and Craig is back to dreaming about ancient fossils whilst completing grade 3 as a healthy, vibrant boy.