Victoria couple continues fight for increased diversity in Canadian stem cell registry

Family holds first Victoria stem cell drive at Car Free YYJ

Imagine, after a cancer diagnosis, knowing that the best possible treatment isn’t available to you because of your ethnicity.

Jeremy Chow, a father of two, and wife Evelyn are still on the hunt for stem cell donors – particularly from those who are mixed-race or of Asian descent.

Jeremy and Evelyn Chow are holding a stem cell drive during Car Free Day YYJ. The couple has been working to get more Asian and mixed-ethnicity donors in the Canadian stem cell registry since Jeremy was diagnosed with leukemia last year. (Photo/Evelyn Chow)

RELATED: In a fight against cancer, Victoria man’s only stem cell match was his own donation

Jeremy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia just before Christmas 2018, and while months of chemotherapy have helped him enter remission, the Victoria man still faces a 30 to 50 per cent chance the cancer could return.

“We’re a family, Jeremy’s a dad, we have two girls,” said Evelyn. “It still weighs heavily on my mind. It’s mentally really tough, as much as you try to think happy thoughts.”

The best possible treatment to eradicate the chance of the cancer returning is a stem cell transplant – but Jeremy’s unique ethnic makeup, half Canton Chinese and half British – makes it extremely difficult to find a match.

Stem cells can only be donated to recipients with similar genetic makeup to the donor. Matches are determined according to DNA markers – antigens found on white blood cells and inherited from both parents. There are currently 25 mixed-ethnicity patients in Canada looking for a match – but only three per cent of the Canadian Services stem cell registry is mixed-race.

Motivated by the knowledge that Jeremy, and other mixed-race Canadians, might not have access to the best treatment options, Jeremy and Evelyn began a crusade to get more bi-racial and Asian donors registered.

READ ALSO: Technology key to reaching new donors: Canadian Blood Services

After three stem cell drives in Vancouver – none of which returned a match for Jeremy – the family is setting up a booth at Victoria’s Car Free YYJ, hoping people will stop in and sign up to be a potential life-saver.

Evelyn says each registrant will provide a very quick mouth swab and fill out a form to become a donor. They won’t be called on to provide a donation unless they are a match for someone in need.

She emphasizes that typically, the donation procedure is done by taking peripheral blood stem cells, drawn through a needle in a non-surgical procedure. Bone marrow stem cell transfusions, she says, are far less common.

”It is getting easier for the donors to participate…when people hear of stem cell donation they think of how painful it might be, but there are other methods.”

Evelyn and Jeremy will have a tent on Douglas Street near city hall during Car Free YYJ on Sunday, June 16 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Jeremy said those who can’t make it to the drive can easily register to become a donor online at blood.ca/en.



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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