B.C. students use Vaisakhi to recruit South Asian stem cell donors
A group of students from across Metro Vancouver used the annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey to try and recruit more South Asian stem cell donors.
There is a greater need for ethnically diverse donors on the stem cell registry. According to Canadian Blood Services, about 69 per cent of the registry is Caucasian. A patient is most likely to find a match within their own ancestry because of the genetic markers used to match them to their donor.
With Vaisakhi expected to see half a million people in attendance, UBC student Joban Bal thought it would be a good place to boost the number of South Asian people signed up.
"With increasing numbers of mixed ethnic individuals, it’s a priority for us to increase the ethnic diversity," explained Bal.
Bal recruited his high school friend Harjot Takhar to help. In 2014, Takhar was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause severe abdominal pain, weight loss and bleeding.
Takhar became extremely sick in 2015 and needed three units of blood. He said that's why he wanted to help encourage more people to sign up to donate stem cells and blood.
"I have to be five years symptom free before I can donate blood, so I’m still waiting for those five years, but this is like me giving my time so that I can recruit people in similar situations as me," said Takhar.
Adrienne San Juan also experienced first-hand the need for donors. Her sister Roshlind was diagnosed with two rare blood diseases.
The family is Filipino and they were unable to find a match within the family or on the registry which only consists of one per cent Filipino donors.
Instead, the family held stem cell drives across Canada and eventually a match was found.
"We were able to find her a match earlier this year and she did have her transplant and she’s recovering really well right now," said Adrienne, who now works for Canadian Blood Services and was helping with registration at Vaisakhi.
Dozens of people stopped by the booth Saturday to get their cheek swabbed and to fill out the necessary paperwork to be added to the registry. If a patient becomes a match, donors are still able to opt out.
The students behind the drive said they hope the event helps anyone waiting for a match and encourages more people of all ethnicities to sign up.
"I still think about them, still pray for them here and there and I’m still grateful for them that they took their 15 minutes, 10 minutes out to donate," Takhar told CTV News of those that donated the blood he received.
People interested in being added to the donor registry can go to One Match to sign up.