Cheek swabbing events to help save New West man's life, boost Asian donor pool
The odds have been stacked against Martin Lintag.
He's battling two rare blood cancers and the only way to save his life is through a stem cell transplant but there are few Filipinos in the donor pool.
"It is like finding a needle in a haystack," Lintag told CTV News via Skype. "Making drives, raising awareness and grinding it out, something good will come through with this."
According to Canadian Blood Services, Filipinos only make up 0.9 per cent of the adult stem cell donor database.
Patients are more likely to find donors in their own ethnic communities, which is why Lintag's family and friends are holding cheek swabbing events to widen that donor pool for ethnic minorities and in the process, hope to find a match for him.
He was diagnosed just days after his 30th birthday with acute lymphocytic and acute myeloid leukemia.
"To have one or the other by itself is not that bad, but to have them combined is really difficult to treat and quite rare," he explained.
He said the cancers are terminal and the only way he can survive is by finding a stem cell match.
"Even if I am in remission, that will keep me afloat for so long before the leukemia starts to take hold again. The stem cell transplant will help me develop a new system hopefully and keep me cancer-free."
Lintag supported by Calgary family
A Calgary family who's experienced a similar ordeal is helping Lintag with his campaign.
Roshlind Mance, 16, was diagnosed with two rare blood disorders last summer and was told the only way she would get better is through a stem cell transplant.
Her family held swabbing events in various cities and eventually found her a near-perfect match.
Mance's family helped Lintag set up his website and is supporting his campaign by helping out at swabbing events in Vancouver.
"Before my sister found her match, we were planning to do a drive in Vancouver. But once we did find her match, we decided to go through with it anyway in honour of Martin this time," explained Adrienne San Juan.
Lintag said he is touched by their support.
"I am forever grateful that they didn't stop there and they have continued to fight not only for her but for anyone who's fighting leukemia and is in need of a stem cell transplant," Lintag said.
He said her story has also given her hope that despite the slim chances, a stranger may be able to save his life.
A life-saving gift
There are currently 27 patients of Filipino descent in the country who are waiting to find a match, according to Canadian Blood Services.
Sarah Jasmins with CBS said the procedure to collect stem cells is simple but a lack of awareness may be to blame for holding people back from becoming donors.
"There's less knowledge or maybe there's fear about the process of donating but a lot has changed in terms of methods of donating," she said. "A lot of times, it's done actually very similiar to a blood donation."
A stem cell transplant can help treat and cure more than 80 different illnesses, she said.
"If you were matched with a patient, wherever they are from the world, from the time you donate, within 48 hours those stem cells have been transplanted into the patient, essentially saving their life."
This weekend from noon to 6 p.m., swabbing events taking place at the Croatian Cultural Centre in East Vancouver.
Stem cell drives are also happening throughout the month of February and March in Toronto.
A swabbing event is also going to take place in Calgary and a date will be determined later.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna-Karstens Smith and Nafeesa Karim