A blood drive and fundraiser honour a compassionate, active young man
The late Ben Becker received blood transfusions. Now his family seeks ‘human angels’ to help others in crisis
Less than a week after entering a hospital emergency room in crisis in summer 2020, Ben Becker passed away from the effects of leukemia — a diagnosis he’d received just days earlier.
This March, two days before what would have been Ben’s 29th birthday, his parents and brother are organizing community donation events — for both blood and financial gifts — to ensure blood products are there for patients when they need them most. These events also honour Ben’s caring spirit and compassion for others.
“We can’t bring Ben back. But what we can do is bring the community together to support the blood system and give other patients like him a chance,” says Peter Becker, Ben’s father. “As someone who always put others first, he’d want anyone to have the same access to blood products that he did.”
People anywhere in Canada can join the family’s effort to support patients by making a donation through their fundraising page, or by booking their own appointment to donate blood, plasma or platelets with the GiveBlood app or at blood.ca.
Ben’s family members describe him as an emotionally warm and caring person who was a good friend to many.
His passion for the outdoors inspired him to tend to his family garden and spend time in nature with his friends. But his greatest interest was sport.
Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area, Ben played hockey his whole life, including competitively. He was a treasured teammate no matter what sport he was playing, and a keen fan too.
“All our family trips involved a visit to an arena or stadium,” says Lisa Becker, Ben’s mother. “Even in Helsinki, when he went adventuring with his brother, they found themselves on an empty professional soccer pitch, Ben sitting on the coach’s bench, chilling in the sun.”
The late Ben Becker (right) with his parents Peter and Lisa (rear) and brother Daniel (front) on a family trip to Vancouver in 2019.
Ben’s love of athletics was just beginning to turn into a budding career in sports management. And activities like hours-long bike rides and hockey with his close and loyal friends were some of his regular pastimes.
The fact that he was still so active in the last few weeks of his life made his sudden diagnosis and passing that much more shocking for his family and all those who loved him.
A shocking loss
Ben started to show signs that he was unwell in the early summer of 2020. Given the timing, he and his family wondered if it was related to COVID-19.
“Ben stopped playing hockey with his friends, even saw his girlfriend less,” shares Lisa, “just so he wouldn’t bring COVID-19 into the house and infect vulnerable family members. That’s how deep his consideration was for others.”
In 2016, Ben traveled to Israel on a group trip — a visit that his family says further connected him to his heritage and allowed him to forge strong friendships with other young people participating from across Canada.
Ben saw medical professionals to try to make sense of his symptoms, but it wasn’t until an emergency department visit on Aug. 9, 2020, that the severity of his illness was recognized.
After entering the hospital, it quickly became evident to the medical team treating him that Ben had acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
AML is a rapidly developing cancer of the blood and bone marrow that stops white blood cells — the blood cells that help your body fight infection — from maturing like they’re supposed to. Its symptoms can be similar to that of the flu.
By the time of his diagnosis, Ben’s AML was too advanced to be treated as anything other than an acute crisis. He began to receive blood products immediately to help stabilize him enough for doctors to begin chemotherapy. Sadly, after a brief but courageous battle, Ben passed away on Aug. 11, 2020.
It can take up to eight blood donors a week to help patients with leukemia undergoing treatment — and often many more for patients in crisis, like Ben.
"As a hematologist that treats blood cancers, I can attest to the fact that blood and platelet transfusions are essential to the many patients who experience bone marrow failure due to their disease and chemotherapy,” says Dr. Rena Buckstein, a hematologist at Sunnybrook Hospital who led the medical oncology team that supported Ben. “Your donation of blood is so appreciated and can truly be lifesaving."
Blood products may be the only thing that can give a patient and their loved ones hope in times of emergency. That’s why Ben’s family is calling for Canadians to consider giving if they can.
“There is no meaning to Ben’s suffering,” shares Lisa. “But there’s meaning in what can be done now to raise awareness and help others.”
A community donates blood and financial gifts in Ben’s memory
The support of the Becker family’s community has been immensely important to them in their time of grief. On Mar. 9, 2022, members of their synagogue and community in north Toronto will be coming together to donate blood in Ben’s memory.
This blood drive builds on months of fundraising the Becker family has led in support of Canadian Blood Services, including the community fundraising page in Ben’s memory. Lisa and Peter have even generously matched several gifts made on their fundraising page.
As former blood donors whose eligibility has changed, Peter and Lisa want to ensure everyone knows there are many ways to give.
Financial donations made to community giving initiatives like the Becker family’s are important contributions to Canada’s Lifeline that impact patients and families, too.
In times of great need, financial gifts can help boost recruitment of biological donors. They strengthen national programs for blood, plasma, stem cells and organs and tissues and fuel research and innovation to shape the transfusion and transplantation system of tomorrow.
‘Blood donors are human angels’
As they think of the blood donors within their own community and across Canada, the Becker family feels deep gratitude. It’s a source of light as they continue to navigate this dark season of grief.
Ben Becker visited Vancouver’s Capilano suspension bridge in 2019. His love of nature and sport fuelled his passion for outdoor adventures.
To the Beckers, blood and biological donors — who give from their own body without the beneficiary on the other end saying thank you — are giving the ultimate gift.
“Sometimes we take for granted that blood products will be there when we need them, but there’s no factory churning out blood. It’s all from the goodness of others,” expresses Lisa.
Their hope is that their upcoming blood donation event, and other potential blood donation events in the future, will encourage more people to find out if they’re eligible — and if they are, to donate blood for the first time.
“Blood donors are human angels for the way they think of others,” shares Peter. “We want them to know the time they spend in that chair, is all worth it.”
In many crisis situations, access to blood products can be vital. You can support patients in need by becoming a blood donor today, or, exploring the many ways to give to Canada’s Lifeline, including financial giving.