Rawiri Pakinga doesn't normally answer unknown phone calls, but when he did a voice on the other end told him he was about to save the life of a child on the other side of the world.

It was part of a special experience for the Rotorua 25-year-old, who is speaking out to encourage others - especially Maori and Pacific Islanders - to join the New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

It began when Mr Pakinga heard the story of Keri and Ryan Topperwien who lost their son Chace to cancer because they couldn't find a bone marrow donor.

His flatmate told him he would shout him a meal if he signed up to the bone marrow register with him.


This led to a day trip to Auckland's bone marrow registry clinic in February.

"When we got there they told us, 'you probably won't ever be called up in your life time because it's a one in 1000 chance of a match'."

About four months later he received that phone call.

"I don't usually pick up unknown numbers, but then because they kept calling and calling I thought I might as well pick it up."

He was "a bit nervous".

"I thought it was going to be the invasive surgery where they actually drill into your pelvis and remove bone marrow".

"But I just had to take a round of injections. You inject it like you inject insulin if you had diabetes. I had to do that for four days before the procedure," he said.

"Then I went up to Auckland for the procedure and lay on a bed for four hours and they extracted it through an IV."

His bone marrow was immediately flown to his match, a child in France.

"The details [of the child] are private at the moment but in another couple of months I get the option to communicate with them, which is something I'd really like to do, but it's really up to the family.

"I'm just speculating at the moment that the child's probably French Polynesian because I'm Maori Polynesian, but it could also be someone from my European side."

He said he'd been told so far everything had gone to plan.

"If the family are willing I'd like to fly over to France and meet them, but it's early days yet."

Mr Pakinga, a tutor in graphic design at Rotorua's Animation College, had been a regular blood donor since high school but was always too scared to join the bone marrow registry because he thought it would be painful.

"Now I'm just trying to encourage others to get on the list," he said.

"But, it's a good feeling, it's something you have to do in your life, just help someone out, it's just like giving out of your own kindness."

The only problem Mr Pakinga encountered was cultural as when he first told his parents they were worried about tikanga.

"Because your body is tapu, in giving it to someone else you are also sharing your mana. I respect the traditions but I thought this was important, once I explained it they were alright with it."

New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry donor co-ordinator Carolyn Crump said the New Zealand registry opened in 1996 specifically to find Maori and Pacific donors.

"We have 13,000 on our register, of those about 8000 are Maori or Pacific. World wide there is 26 million on the global database, 23 million of those are European."

She said since 1996 the chance of a Maori or Pacific Islander finding a match had risen from 35 per cent to 75 per cent.

"But there are still people who we can't find a match for and with our diverse population we need more donors who are not European."

Ms Crump said Mr Pakinga was a great example of how someone could help and he had inspired others to also register.

After Chace died of leukaemia four years ago, the Topperwiens created the Dream Chaser Foundation to raise awareness. Mr Topperwien remembers the rally at which Mr Pakinga signed up.

"There was about 10 people that signed up that day and we were lucky Rawiri was a match for one of them.

"We were excited, we were over the moon. Because our son wasn't able to find a match, to know that someone was able to find a match because of something we were doing was the best feeling ever."

NZ Bone Marrow Donor Registry is currently recruiting:
- Males with Maori or Pacific Island ancestry (or)
- Males with an ancestor from any NZ ethnic minority group (and)
- Aged between 18 and 40 years old and in good health at the time of registration (and)
- Able to meet the NZ Blood Service requirements to donate blood (Read the NZBS blood donor eligibility criteria here) (and)
- Willing to donate bone marrow to any patient anywhere in the world
Visit www.bonemarrow.org.nz for more information.