Last summer when a bruise unexpectedly appeared on Dorothy Vernon-Brown’s left leg, she obviously was concerned.
Though painless and not the result of an injury, the unusually large and uncharacteristic contusion prompted the Progressive Jamaicans Association (PROJAM) chair to seek medical attention.
“The family doctor was out of the office for a week, so I decided to go to a walk-in clinic where some blood tests were ordered,” she recalled. “Later that same day, I returned to the clinic for the results and was informed by the young doctor that I was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia (AML).”
The most common acute leukemia affecting adults, AML is a cancer of the myeloid line blood cells characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and hinder the production of normal blood cells.
The curable disease progresses rapidly and is typically fatal within months if left untreated.
Since the diagnosis last August, Vernon-Brown developed pneumonia and was in intensive care for a week. She has received antibiotics to prevent and treat infections along with red blood cells and platelets transfusions during chemotherapy.
“My treatments have gone well, but now I am in desperate need of a stem cell transplant to continue to live and prevent a relapse,” she said.
Finding a stem cell donor urgently however could be challenging for the Jamaican-born marketing consultant and former Canadian Association of Women Entrepreneurs & Executives board member.
While Blacks represent nearly 2.5 per cent of the population, only about one per cent of the almost 300,000 Canadians registered with One Match Stem Cell & Marrow Network (OMSCMN) are Black. That means if you are a Black person with leukemia or another blood disorder and you are not lucky to have a family member who is a perfect match, your odds of finding someone else is extremely low because of the very small number of registered Blacks.
For a White person, there is a 75 per cent chance they would find a match who is not a family member.
Vernon-Brown is among the almost 25 per cent of leukemia victims whose family members are not compatible donors.
“Patients are most likely to find their matching donor with someone of similar ethnic background,” said OMSCMN donor management co-ordinator Hailu Mulatu. “In addition, stem cells from young male donors between the ages of 17 and 35 are optimal for patients because they can have better post-transplant results and fewer chances of complications.”
Donors can register online at www.onematch.ca or attend registration/swab events across the city.
Confident that a perfect donor will be found, Vernon-Brown said the disease caught her by surprise.
“I have taken good care of my body even before eating well became fashionable,” said the St. Jago High School, University of the West Indies and York University Schulich School of Business graduate. “I love to dance and am a member of an adult jazz group and I also do strength training. I was doing the things that seem to be right to prevent illness and I was never really sick prior to my diagnosis.
“In addition, none of my family members has the disease. My father was still sharp and active before passing away two weeks shy of his 100th birthday and my 85-year-old mom lives alone in Jamaica. When you take all these things into consideration, I had no reason to believe something was seriously wrong with me when that bruise appeared. As a devoted mother, wife, entrepreneur and serial volunteer, it was a kick to the gut.”
Registration and swab events to find a donor for Vernon-Brown will take place on February 23 at Kennedy Road Tabernacle Church, 141 Kennedy Rd. N. in Brampton from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event is for church members only.
An open event takes place on March 2 at the Delta Toronto Airport West Hotel, 5444 Dixie Rd. in Mississauga from 2-6 p.m.
To learn more about the donor drive, individuals can log on to www.donordrive4dorothy.org.