Wanted: ethnically diverse blood donors
Barry Gray, the Hamilton Spectator
Stem cell match sought for brothers, 7 and five months, with rare genetic disease
November 07, 2008Elisabeth Johns
The Hamilton Spectator
(Nov 7, 2008) It was Keswick Blake's first time giving blood.
The father of three hopes his donation yesterday will inspire others of ethnically diverse backgrounds to give blood and register to donate stem cells.
His two sons, seven-year-old Lucas and five-month-old Owen, have rare blood diseases and desperately need to match up with a stem cell donor.
But there still aren't enough people from ethnically diverse backgrounds donating to find a match, said Teri Crutcher, a donor management co-ordinator with One Match Stem Cell and Marrow Network.
Blake is Jamaican and his wife, Manuela, is Portuguese.
Their sons suffer from Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disease that destroys the body's ability to reproduce blood cells.
While Owen is doing well, Lucas's condition is causing him to be much more physically weak and tired, Manuela said.
Lucas is home-schooled to avoid catching a cold, which would debilitate his already weak immune system.
Both boys need a marrow transplant, Lucas much sooner, his mom said.
The Canadian Blood Services needs more people who are black, biracial or of European descent to register to donate stem cells to better find a match for the two boys.
Since The Spectator first wrote about the family's plight in September, 3,900 people have registered to donate stem cells, up from 1,700 in the September-to-November period last year.
They still haven't found a match, though.
In Canada, 83 per cent of stem cell donor registrations are caucasian, which includes Portuguese.
Less than 1 per cent of stem cell donor registrants are black, Crutcher said.
"There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding stem cell donation in ethnic communities," Crutcher said.
"It is a hurdle for us to overcome," Crutcher added.
Some recent immigrants voice superstitions around giving blood, while other misconceptions include unwarranted fears the stem cell donation procedures are painful, she added.
Canadian Blood Services has been making inroads in diverse communities and is working with student groups at colleges and universities, including McMaster, to encourage people to donate, she said.
"Canada's population has grown more diverse over the past 10 years," she said.
"As the face of Canada changes, we have to respond to that."
When people register to donate stem cells, they must be matched first before actually donating. To register, go to www.onematch.ca.