The season of giving is here and stem cells are the ultimate gift.
Another year has passed and we've entered the holiday season. The pressure to spend money is real, but you don't have to fork over a ton of cash to give a meaningful gift.
There's an entire community of people across the country you could have a positive impact on with just one act of generosity.
As of November, 2021, over 800 Canadians are actively looking for a stem cell donor match — and you could be it. It's also easier than you may realize. Your journey to becoming a stem cell donor starts with simply registering online to see if you might be a potential match.
Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry is dedicated to finding unrelated, healthy volunteer donors for patients in need of stem cell transplants.
So, What Are Stem Cells Anyway?
Blood stem cells are needed for the immune system to function properly. In a nutshell, they're immature cells that can eventually develop into red and white blood cells, as well as platelets that control bleeding.
Over 80 conditions can be treated with a transplant, such as blood cancers (like leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma) and bone marrow deficiency diseases (like sickle cell disease and aplastic anemia).
Unfortunately, most people can't find a match within their own family, meaning that over 75% of patients must rely on unrelated volunteer donors to help.
And even though there are more than 400,000 people registered with Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry, many patients still have difficulty finding the right match.
Why Is It So Hard For Canadian Patients To Find The Right Stem Cell Donor Match?
Since patients are more likely to match with a donor who shares their ethnicity, this means patients from Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Hispanic, Black and mixed-race backgrounds find it especially hard to find a match.
Age is a factor too, since patient outcomes tend to be more positive with younger donors. This fact resonated with a donor named Robbie Faraday, who was inspired to join the registry after hearing a friend (and stem cell recipient), Mackenzie Curran, speak at a Queen's University event.
In high school, Mackenzie was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood condition that rapidly turns into an aggressive form of leukemia. She found a donor match through Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry.
After learning her story, and hearing that there’s a need for people with more ethnically diverse backgrounds, Robbie joined the registry in the hopes that he too could help someone in need.
How You Can Register
The first step is to answer a questionnaire on the registry's website to find out if you're eligible to donate stem cells.
If you are, Canadian Blood Services will send you a testing kit, where you'll swab the inside of your cheek and send back the sample. Once your information is received and accepted, you'll be officially added to the registry.
Doctors will then use your information to see if you're a match for a patient in need. It could be weeks, months or even years before you're called upon to make a donation.
"I think people should register because it's incredibly easy. Like, you take a Q-tip and you swap the inside of your cheek and you send it away and that's all you need to do," Robbie says in a Canadian Blood Services video about his experience.
"The sacrifice that I would have to make to donate to someone is so minuscule compared to what they're going through. And so, in my mind, it was a no-brainer."
As technology has advanced, so have the methods used to donate stem cells. These days, you can donate stem cells in much the same way as you’d donate blood (it just takes a bit longer.)
This holiday season, you could give the ultimate gift to someone in need — and it won’t cost you a cent.