The need goes on #12: A stem cell transplant during a pandemic

A patient from Prince Edward Island has already had his transplant delayed once

April 15, 2020

Jason Chiasson is awaiting a stem cell transplant during the COVID-19 pandemic

Jason Chiasson is awaiting a stem cell transplant during the COVID-19 pandemic

Jason Chiasson never imagined he’d be diagnosed with blood cancer, let alone have to fight it during a pandemic.

Jason, 38, was initially diagnosed with sleep apnea when he went to the doctor suffering from fatigue. When he also began having dizzy spells, he suspected diabetes, which runs in his family.

The diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia last summer was a shock.

“I’ve been taking it one day at a time since August 25,” says Jason, who lives in Montague, P.E.I. with his wife, their three young children and his teenage stepdaughter.

Stem cell transplants provide hope for a cure

Multiple rounds of chemotherapy followed the diagnosis. Fortunately, the treatment put the cancer into remission. Even better, a matching donor was found for a stem cell transplant through Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry, providing hope for a cure.

Jason was set to proceed with that potentially lifesaving procedure when the unexpected hit again. This time it was a fungal infection in one of his lungs that required several weeks of treatment and delayed the transplant.

Now he faces more waiting and uncertainty. The new date for his transplant is currently up in the air, and he’ll need more tests beforehand to ensure he’s healthy enough to go through it.

He’s also living with the fear that COVID-19 could somehow thwart the procedure — at his end, or the donor’s. Such a setback would be devastating.

“The stakes are high, because I’ve been told my only chance for a cure is a stem cell transplant,” says Jason. “For whatever reason, my leukemia does not respond well to the chemo and they’re concerned about me falling out of remission before I can get the transplant.”

The need goes on for committed donors and new registrants

Stem cells can be used to treat more than 80 diseases and disorders, and Jason is one of hundreds of Canadian patients who need transplants each year.

COVID-19 is having an impact on stem cell transplantation in Canada. The pandemic threatens the health of people around the world, including patients and the stem cell donors who have committed to help them.

The pandemic has also led to travel bans and flight limitations which make it more difficult to transport stem cells internationally. In a typical year, about half of Canada’s stem cell recipients receive cells from donors in other countries. Now, those patients will rely more than ever on donors in Canada.

We strongly urge healthy people between 17 and 35 years old to join the adult stem cell registry to help provide matches for patients in need. We have cancelled registration events in response to COVID-19, but continue to send swab kits by mail. You can return yours with the postage-paid envelope that is sent when you join the registry.

Blood products are also essential to cancer treatment

Right now, Jason is also grateful for the ongoing generosity of blood donors. He’s received blood products regularly throughout his cancer treatment, including a transfusion of platelets in the first week of April. That support is essential during his anxious wait for a cure.

“It’s important for Canadians to continue donating, so that people like me can continue fighting for their lives,” says Jason. “Leukemia itself is a fight for my life, and without the transfusions, that fight would be over before it really even started.”

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