“I was on my way to a stem cell ‘swab meet’ when I got the call saying I was a stem cell match for my brother,” recalls Susan Nguyen. “It was just so unbelievable. I can’t even explain that moment.”
Susan’s youngest brother, Bille Nguyen, had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive blood cancer several months earlier. Doctors said his only hope was a stem cell transplant. Susan and her two sisters had hoped one of them could be a donor, but the doctors were not initially optimistic, in part because only 25 per cent of patients find a match within their own families.
At the same time, a patient who doesn’t find a match within the family is most likely to be matched with an unrelated donor who shares their ancestral background. Susan was dismayed to learn that Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry had only a small number of registrants of Vietnamese and Chinese origin. That knowledge prompted Susan and her family to team up with others to recruit prospective stem cell donors at swabbing events across the country.
“I became kind of obsessive about it!” Susan says. “I was so bothered that I hadn’t known about this problem and that my community didn’t know about it.”
Even after her own donation and Bille’s successful transplant in 2018, Susan has continued to advocate passionately for diverse donors to join the stem cell registry.
“We need to get out there and tell people that we can help each other. We can increase this pool for others,” says Susan.