Black History Month Celebrates Life Through New Blood and Stem Cell Donors

Black Canadians urged to ‘make history’ by becoming blood and stem cell donors

January 30, 2012 (TORONTO, ON) — Even at age seven, little Kynan Jackson of Halifax knows all too well that one day he may depend on the generosity of a matched blood and stem cell donor to help him.

Diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease at age four, Kynan’s mother Winnell Jackson says she wants her son to have what any mother wants for their child – to lead a normal healthy life, to be active in sports and to do well in school.

This year, Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, is marking Black History Month by urging all Canadians of African and Caribbean heritage to celebrate their unique culture through blood and stem cell donation.

This year’s theme, ‘Our Canadian Story: Making Community Engagement a Priority,’ underscores the importance of community. Today, one of the health issues facing the Black community is providing young, healthy and committed blood and stem cell donors for both the blood program and Canada’s stem cell network – OneMatch. Canadians need stem cell transplants to treat potentially life-threatening illnesses including cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma and other diseases.

Sickle Cell Disease and Stem Cell Transplants

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited disease of red blood cells, predominantly affecting people of African decent. Sickle Cell Disease affects approximately 7,000 people in Canada. Once diagnosed, treatment is mainly supportive, through blood transfusions and drug therapies, but stem cell transplants continue to represent the only cure for this inherited disease.

Diversity and the complexities of matching

Blood typing and stem cell matching share unique encumbrances for the Black community as each present particular needs found only within certain diverse communities.

Diversity in both the blood and stem cell programs continues to be a significant concern for Canadian Blood Services and OneMatch. But with the collective efforts of various community groups and advocates working side-by-side with Canadian Blood Services, positive change is happening – especially bringing younger, healthy, ethnically diverse male donors to the stem cell network and donating blood regularly.

Dr. Isaac Odame, Medical Director of the Global Sickle Cell Disease Network at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, is all too familiar with the difficulties of matching patients within different diverse communities. “Individuals with African heritage possess certain minor blood groups that may make it difficult to find compatible blood when repeated transfusions are needed as in sickle cell disease treatment. In stem cells, HLA (human leukocyte antigen) matching is compounded by the sheer lack of available ‘HLA-typed’ donors from African decent on the stem cell Network - OneMatch. Quite simply, the more young male donors from these diverse backgrounds that is available for patients, the better the chance of finding the right match for both stem cell and regular patients. And that translates to a greater likelihood that the patient’s life can be significantly improved.”

Younger male donor stem cells can offer patients a possible better outcome by reducing post-transplant complications such as graft vs. host disease and the reconstitution of the immune system.

Past recipient Anthony Codrington of Halifax represents ‘one of the lucky ones’ having found his match four years ago. “When you are told that 75 per cent of patients will rely on matching an unrelated donor, you really understand the odds of survival. Being Black reduced even further the ability of finding my match then as it is now. I was one of the very fortunate few that found his match to continue living.”

How to help

OneMatch is currently searching for stem cell matches for 36 patients identifying themselves as Black, while only 0.7% of registered donors on the OneMatch Network are Black. To register as a potential stem cell donor, or to find a blood donor clinic in your area, please go to or call Canadian Blood Services at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) to have a registration package mailed to your address.

Media interviews are available in Halifax with Ms. Winnell Jackson (mother of Kynan) and Mr. Anthony Codrington past recipient of stem cells. Skype and phone can also be set up for Halifax interviews.

Media interviews are available in Toronto with Dr. Isaac Odame, Medical Director of the Global Sickle Cell Disease Network at SickKids Hospital in Toronto.

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