Photo from Canadian Blood Services
Over a thousand Canadians have joined the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry after nationwide calls were made to find a stem cell donor for a baby in Winnipeg.
That baby, Boston George De Castro, is still in desperate need of a stem cell donor.
After a bone marrow biopsy in October, the three-month-old was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). Boston has been undergoing chemotherapy and steroid treatment, but the only cure for his HLH is a stem cell transplant.
Boston is half-caucasian and half-Filipino, and the best match for him is likely someone who shares his mixed ethnic background.
Of the 800+ Canadians currently searching for a stem cell donor, 15 of them are of Filipino ancestry. Like Boston, these individuals are more likely to find a match with someone else from their ancestral group.
Finding a match for people of color, especially those of mixed descent, can be difficult in Canada. According to Sarah Jasmins of Canadian Blood Services, minorities are vastly underrepresented in the stem cell donor database. Currently, the registry is 66 per cent caucasian and 34 per cent are of diverse ancestry. Just 3.5 per cent of the stem cell registry are of mixed race, while only 1.1 per cent are Filipino.
Donors in Canada have the potential to match with any patient in the world. Conversely, 85 per cent of the time, patients in Canada find matches on international registries. Currently, the coronavirus is making international donations more difficult. Transporting stem cells across borders has become much more challenging due to travel bans, restrictions, and flight limitations.
“It’s all the more reason why we need those donors in Canada,” Jasmins of Canadian Blood Services says.
To join the registry, donors must be between 17-35 in order to offer better patient outcomes.
Joining the database is easy, completely free, and all the potential donors’ information remains confidential. Donors register online, receive a cheek swab in the mail, and send it back.
Jasmins encourages Filipinos to join the lifesaving registry and if they’re not eligible, to spread the word to encourage people to register.
“All the Titas can line up their nieces and nephews to educate them and spread the word to bring awareness amongst the community,” Jasmins says.
30-year-old, Venessa Manaloto registered to be a donor back in September 2014. She recalls that she was donating blood and a staff member suggested she register to become a stem cell donor.
Manaloto says she was easily convinced to donate because she is half-Filipino and half-Italian.
“They told me it was super simple and they just need your saliva,” Manaloto recalls. “Plus they said it’s more difficult to find stem cell matches for people with multiple ethnicities.”
“I thought it was such a small thing I could do that could potentially save someone’s life, and if I was in that situation I hope someone would be a donor for me.”
To join Boston’s campaign and register to become a potential lifesaving donor head to blood.ca/Match4Boston