By RON FANFAIR
Anxious parents, Kestwick and Manuela Blake, are in a race against time. Their two younger sons – eight-year-old Lucas and 12-month-old Owen – suffer from Fanconi anemia. Lucas needs a stem cell transplant as well as regular blood transfusions to beat the recessive genetic disorder. The eldest of their three children – an 11-year-old boy – does not have the disease.
Fanconi anemia affects children and adults from all ethnic backgrounds and severely diminishes the body’s ability to fight infection, deliver oxygen and form clots. In most cases, bone marrow transplants are required to repair the hematological problems associated with the disease.
“Because of our ethnic backgrounds, it’s a challenge finding donors,” the Blakes told Share at a stem cell awareness and blood donor clinic held recently at Rhema Christian Ministries at Downsview Park. Kestwick is Jamaican-born while his wife is Portuguese.
“We are desperately searching for a donor for Lucas because he’s taking blood transfusions almost every two weeks. We need it as soon as possible.”
One Match Stem Cell and Marrow Network donor management co-ordinator, Mary Lynn Pride, said patients are more likely to find a donor from within their own ethnic group.
“The Blakes’ best hope is going to be someone from their own communities, someone who is registered and committed so that, when they do get that call, they can proceed to the actual donation,” said Pride.
“We are looking at a registry right now that is 82 per cent Caucasian. That certainly does not reflect the diversity of Canada nor does it reflect the diversity of the patients we are serving…Rhema understands that there is a need for outreach from within the community, not only for blood donation, but also stem cell donors.”
Donors of Black heritage represent just 0.5 per cent of all registered donors.
The recent blood donor clinic marked the third time this year that Rhema – which has a congregation of nearly 2,000 – has facilitated an awareness event and clinic.
“We believe this is an important initiative and a good way to give back to the community,” said Rhema member, Dr. Hazel Stewart. “There is no other fluid that can replace blood and that’s why what we’re doing here today is so vital. We know there are issues with the Black community having unique blood types and it can be very difficult finding a match. As a church community, we want to make a difference.”
Rhema youth pastor, Stanley Moncrieffe, donated blood for the first time last Sunday.
“I did it because I wanted to set an example for all the youth,” he said. “Also, I never understood the importance of giving blood until recently.”
Individuals interested in becoming stem cell donors can register online at onematch.ca where they are required to complete consent and health assessment forms. After submitting the forms, they will receive a confidential phone call within 1-2 business days from a One Match staff member.