Stem cell drive at Aberdeen to honour 22-year-old leukemia patient

Her family thought it was the flu, except the symptoms wouldn’t go away. At age nine, Judy Lam was sent for blood tests and the diagnosis was clear: she had leukemia.

“The moment I heard that I had leukemia, I was very scared,” she wrote in an online post. “The more I thought about it, the more scared I became.”

She recuperated, found God and no longer feared for her life. Four years later, leukemia came back, prompting another successful battle against the disease. But in November 2011, leukemia returned to the now 22-year-old’s body and Lam has again found herself fighting for her life.

On Saturday, OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network of the Canadian Blood Services will partner with other community groups in Lam’s honour to sign up potential donors to the stem cell network. The Christian Mission of Canada and OtherHalf Chinese Stem Cell Initiative are also behind the drive, which takes place at Aberdeen Centre.

Like other sufferers of blood cancers, Lam needs a stem cell transplant. She is unable to find a close match within her family and is desperate to find a donor.

Lam wasn’t able to be interviewed, but in an online video, she offers an appeal in Chinese for potential donors to register at Saturday’s event.

Stem cells are the building blocks of blood. Those who register as potential donors at Saturday’s event will be given a cheek swab. Genetic information will be processed and entered into a database. Each time a patient is looking for a stem cell match, the database is searched for potential donors.

“If someone is a leukemia patient or has lymphoma, often times their last chance of hope of beating that illness is a stem cell transplant,” said Olga Pazukha, spokesperson for OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.

According to organizers, there’s an immediate need for young men ages 17 to 35 to join the stem cell network, particularly those of ethnicities such as Chinese.

Pazukha said OneMatch wants to ensure the database is diverse enough to match the growing ethnic diversity in Canada. She noted building awareness is key in reaching out to ethnic communities.

“The difficulty maybe lies in making sure to connect with the communities in a way that resonates with them,” she said. “It’s making sure that we reach the elders in the community or reach the younger generation in the community...”

Saturday’s event, which is timed to coincide with Chinese New Year celebrations, takes place at Aberdeen Centre mall, 4151 Hazelbridge Way, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The mall held a similar event last year.

A drive will also be held in Burnaby the same day at the CCM Centre in Burnaby Crystal Mall, 4500 Kingsway, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

People already registered with OneMatch needn’t register again.

What are stem cells?

•Stem cells are the building blocks of blood.

•Patients who have a disease that inhibits their ability to produce these cells will need a transplant of healthy stem cells from a donor.

•There are two stem cells that donors can provide: from bone marrow and from circulating blood. A third stem cell can be harvested from umbilical cord blood after a baby is born.

•By donating stem cells, donors can give a patient a second chance at life.

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