The Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung – History

In 1983 Stefan Morsch, a 16-year-old boy from Birkenfeld, as small town in the south-west of the Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a slow-growing cancer of the white blood cells. On July 31st, 1984 Stefan received his new bone marrow in the USA at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.. Stefan was the first European that received bone marrow of an unrelated donor.
When Stefan was diagnosed the physicians explained to the family that Stefan’s only chance for survival was a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately no suitable donor was found in the family, and time was running out for Stefan.
In July of 1983 Emil Morsch stumbled across an article about a bone marrow transplantation of an eight-year-old child and an organisation in London, an organization that kept a list of 50.000 potential volunteer donors. There was new hope for Stefan. Emil Morsch immediately contacted “Nolan Laboratories” and the search for a donor for Stefan was running. There was only a 1-in-700.000 chance of finding a matching donor, but the Nolan laboratories located 94 people whose tissue typing matched Stefan’s in the three of the four factors that were critical for acceptance at that time.

At this stage many different institutions and people were involved in helping Stefan. The Kaiserslautern Forensic Institute for Law Medicine volunteered to do the final compatibility tests if the blood could be delivered to Kaiserslautern.

The Commander of the 2. Luftwaffendivision in Birkenfeld appealed to the 7th Air Division of the US Air Force in Ramstein for support in transporting the blood samples. When the first package with 10 samples was supposed to be shipped on November 24th in 1983, “Thanksgiving-Day”, there was no military airlift but the members of the 7th Air Division didn’t give up though and donated the money to have the samples flown commercially from London Heathrow to Frankfurt.

Out of all the samples tested three potential donors were found. The donor that was finally chosen was Terence Bayley from Great Britain.

When a donor was finally pinpointed Stefan went into the acute state of the disease and had to be transplanted as fast as possible. At this time the procedure was not performed in Europe yet and the transplantation had to be performed in the USA.
On July 31st of 1984 Stefan received the unrelated stem cells. Although the transplant was successful, Stefan died on December 17th, 1984 only 17 years of age because of pneumonia. Stefan’s immune system was still too weak to defeat this new target. Stefan didn’t die in vain. It was his wish to establish a foundation to launch a stem cell donor registry to give all leukemia patients a chance for a cure.

Stefan’s parents Emil and Hiltrud fulfilled his wish and founded the Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung with the goal to establish a national bone marrow donor registry to ensure that suitable donors could be quickly identified for any patient in need.

Until today more than 400.000 volunteer donors registered with the Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung and hundreds of patients have been transplanted with the help of these donors. The mission of the Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung is mainly financed by donations. These donations enable the foundation to save lives, to find matching donors and to support the patients and their families.