Chinese recruits needed to help save lives

It’s a 10-minute test that holds the promise of saving lives.

Saturday, the OtherHalf Chinese Stem Cell Initiative partnered with OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network to hold a National Chinese Stem Cell Drive in Toronto and Vancouver.

With a simple swab test, technicians collected the DNA samples of hundreds of registrants and sent them to the country’s stem-cell database.

As part of the event, over 300 volunteers took to the street in the two cities to spread the word about the urgent need for Chinese donors.

About 20 Chinese-Canadians suffering from illnesses such as leukemia are searching desperately for donors to save their lives, but as it stands their chances are slim.

Clinical and forensic psychologist Thomas S. Li is a member of the OtherHalf Steering Committee.

“A Caucasian patient has about 80 per cent chance to find a match and completely recover. In contrast a Chinese patient has merely 10 per cent,” Li said. The reason, he said, is the number of Chinese registrants is much smaller.

Currently, Chinese-Canadians make up only two per cent of this country’s stem cell registry while Caucasians comprise 82 per cent.

“There is a lack of understanding of stem-cell donation,” Li said. “People think it would be painful and sabotage their health.”

In 80 per cent of cases, the donor’s blood is drawn into a centrifuge where the stem cells are collected and the remaining blood is returned to the donor’s body.

For 20 per cent of donors whose stem cells in blood are insufficient, bone marrow would be extracted from their hip bone under anesthetic. In these cases, they need to be hospitalized for one day.

Maggie Tran is a volunteer from Chinese Gospel Church, who works to spread the stem-cell message through Toronto’s Chinatown.

“People know little about this program,” Tran said. “That’s why most of them refuse to get involved. They don’t even bother to stop.”

Mary-Lynn Pride is the patient transplant liaison specialist of OneMatch.

According to Pride, the most common questions from registrants are ‘does it hurt?’ and ‘what happens if I am found to be matched with one of the patients?’

“We provide them all the information so they can make an informed decision,” Li said. “When they know the process, they are very engaged to continue the registration.”

For Yin Ning however, a University of Toronto graduate student in biomedical engineering, becoming a donor is totally worthwhile.

“If I can save someone’s life by taking a little risk, “Ning said, “I definitely will do this.”

Pride feels education is the key to encouraging more Chinese-Canadians to take part in the program.

“[Chinese] are very giving people and they do want to help patients from their community,” Pride said. “We should encourage them to come out to be registrants.”