Often witnessing a child’s beauty will reel us back to a simpler time when song and dance superseded all hardships of growing up. For little Alysha Dykstra her dream of song and dance were replaced by a disharmony of beeps and burps voiced by a multitude of medical machines towering over her hospital bedside. Diagnosed in 2008 with a rare form of leukemia at age eight, Alysha underwent a regimen of aggressive cancer treatments at Hamilton’s McMaster Children’s Hospital. As further treatment failed, she was transported to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children where she received an unrelated umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant in June 2009.
On November 5th as a healthy eight year-old, Alysha and her family came to Ottawa to help Canadian Blood Services and The Ottawa Hospital announce the official cooperation between both organizations to operate the first collection site of the OneMatch Public Cord Blood Bank. This partnership agreement will span both the current validation and full collection phases of the program – opening in April 2013. Alysha’s story provides a real-life example that underscores the need for Ottawa area mothers to consider donating their baby’s cord blood during both parts of this program.
Currently, there are just under 1,000 patients waiting for a stem cell match in Canada. Approximately 50 per cent of patients who need an unrelated blood stem cell transplant are unable to find a suitable match. In addition, patients from diverse populations, particularly those from Aboriginal, Black and multi-ethnic backgrounds, often have increased complexities in finding a matched donor. A patient’s best chance of finding a match is with someone of similar ancestry. Building a new national public cord blood bank will help to close this gap by offering additional sources of stem cells and more matching possibilities. Canadian Blood Services continues to work with partners within these communities to deliver this message of need and urgency.
Partners like the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada and its President Dr. Evelyn Voyageur, who shared her perspective on the challenges of Aboriginal patients. “It is very important that we educate the Aboriginal people on the OneMatch Public Cord Blood Bank, so that these same patients have the matches they need to get well. With only 0.9 per cent of the overall stem cell registry First Nation, Inuit or Metis, it is hard for our 13 Aboriginal patients to find a stem cell match,” says Dr. Voyageur.
Echoing this attention to diversities, Dr. Graham Sher, CEO of Canadian Blood Services, called the OneMatch public cord blood bank a ‘long term investment in the future of healthcare in Canada.’ “The goal is to create more transplant opportunities for Canadian patients with a cord blood bank that is reflective of Canada’s growing ethnic diversity” says Dr. Sher. “This partnership between Canadian Blood Services and The Ottawa Hospital represents a joint effort to close this diversity gap and thereby providing more hope to patients waiting for their unrelated stem cell match.”
As one of Canada’s 14 stem cell transplant centres in Canada, The Ottawa Hospital continues to keep patient care up front and centre. Dr. Jack Kitts, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital highlighted the fact that stem cells from umbilical cords will cause fewer complications in patients. “Transplanting anonymous allogenic (unrelated) cord blood stem cells can reduce the risk of transmitting viral infections that can be potentially lethal for transplant recipients,” says Dr. Kitts. “Routinely umbilical cord blood is usually discarded as medical waste following the delivery of the baby, however, if donated to a public cord blood bank, it could mean helping save a patient’s life.”
Lives like our very special singing ballerina Alysha Dykstra. “If Alysha had not received her cord blood stem cell transplant, we might very well be at a very different place today,” says her mother Karen.
In Ottawa, you can donate at either the General or Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital starting April 2, 2013. Collections will begin in Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver in 2014, giving even more Canadians the opportunity to donate cord blood stem cells. Detailed information regarding the collection hospitals will be made available at www.blood.ca/cordblood.
Who can donate?
Healthy pregnant women, 18 years of age or older, will be able to donate their baby’s cord blood in Ottawa starting in the spring of 2013. Collections will begin in Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver in 2014.
What are umbilical cord blood stem cells?
There are three sources of blood stem cells for stem cell transplant: bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cells found in circulating blood and umbilical cord blood. Cord blood stem cell transplants are used for treating over 50 diseases and disorders, for example, leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, inherited immune system and metabolic disorders, as well as sickle cell. There are some unique advantages to using cord blood stem cell such as a lower risk of Graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), a common serious side effect of unrelated stem cell transplants.