If you are a young African-Canadian and you want to contribute to your community, register as a blood and stem cell donor through the Canadian Blood Services OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.
Dr. Isaac Odame, medical director of the Global Sickle Cell Disease Network at the Hospital for Sick Children, issued the challenge last Saturday night in his keynote address at the Fellowship Baptist Church Markham’s (FBCM) fourth annual Black History Month celebration.
A disease that affects mostly people of African descent, sickle cell is a life-threatening and hereditary blood disorder that causes malformation of red blood cells that become distorted when they transmit oxygen through the body.
Dr. Odame said males tend to be bigger and deliver a larger volume of stem cells than females without the complications of an over-active immune system that occur during pregnancy.
“Many Blacks don’t realize that patients with sickle cell disease who are on regular blood transfusion because of complications … require their blood to be perfectly matched,” said Odame, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto. “If it doesn’t, they develop what we call antibodies which then make it difficult to give them blood because they react.
“The donor pool of blood is mainly Caucasian. So when you are looking for closely-matched blood in order to avoid the antibodies, you are looking for people of the same racial background. Sickle cell disease patients are heavily dependent on their African brothers and sisters to be donors. If you don’t come forward, these patients’ treatment is jeopardized. Blood donation from Blacks is so limited now that their blood is tagged as special and not be used for a Caucasian person.”
Odame said that while Blacks represent some 2.5 per cent of the population, only 0.7 per cent of the 300,000 Canadians registered with the blood agency’s stem cell and marrow agency are Black.
“That means that if you are a Black person with leukemia or another blood disorder and you are not lucky to have a brother or sister who is a perfect match, the odds that you find somebody else is very, very low because not many Blacks have volunteered to be on the registry,” he said. “For a White person, there is a 75 per cent chance that they would find somebody else who is not a family member.”
Odame said there are about 35 Blacks with blood cancers that are waiting for a donor.
“Unfortunately, it may be too late for them,” he said. “If we want to save them, then the more volunteers that come out, the higher the chances they will find donors.”
Clairmont Humphrey, who contributed musical selections to last Saturday’s program, joined Odame in the call for Blacks to register as blood and stem donors. His selfless deed five years ago saved a young girl’s life.
In December 2007, little Jaida Fairman was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare condition in newborn infants in which the common bile duct between the liver and the small intestine is blocked or absent. The only effective treatment is surgery – which she underwent – and liver transplantation which she needed to live.
Humphrey became aware of the young girl’s plight when he ran into her mother at Toronto General Hospital where he’s a hemo technician assistant. He agreed to donate a piece of his liver to the little girl who is his ex-wife’s grand niece.
“I did not think twice about doing it,” said Humphrey who is the founder and chief executive officer of Streaming Praise Radio.Com. Inc. “It was a direct message from God telling me what I needed to get done. I am in good health, even though my gall bladder was removed as part of the operation and I sometimes suffer from indigestion.
“That is minor for me when you compare it with saving a young life. We need to stop thinking only about ourselves and instead focus sometimes on what we can do to make a difference in other people’s lives. You may not be able to give a kidney or a piece of liver, but you could donate blood.”
The Black History Month program also featured Vince Cato on the steelpan, the Children’s Dance Theatre, the Toronto East Family Choir and FBCM youth who read poetry.
BY RON FANFAIR