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Plea for Aboriginal bone marrow donors.

Right now in Canada, there are four Aboriginal people waiting to find compatible donors to provide them with bone marrow for a much needed transplant. One of them is Robert L'Hirondelle.

Robert is seven years old, and was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia four years ago. After undergoing two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy, Robert's cancer went into remission. However, during a routine test in June, it was discovered the cancer had returned.

Robert is back in chemotherapy again, but the best course of treatment for him now is a bone marrow transplant. Without it, his chances of survival are at about 10 per cent. A transplant would increase those odds to between 45 and 60 per cent.

No match was found within Robert's immediate family, and an initial search among the 6.5 million people on bone marrow registries world-wide has failed to come up with a match.

Lesly Bauer is communications manager with the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry with Canadian Blood Services (CBS). Because bone marrow matches are hereditary, Bauer explained, Robert, who is Metis, is most likely to find a compatible donor within the North American Metis or Aboriginal communities. Because of the specific antigens, or genetic markers, in Robert's bone marrow, matches would also be likely within the Asian community, or among Aboriginal people in Australia.

There are about 1,700 Aboriginal people registered as bone marrow donors on the CBS registry, but more are needed. Each Aboriginal person who registers as a potential bone marrow donor increases the chances of finding a match for Robert, and for other people within the Aboriginal community who need transplants, either now, or in the future.

For patients waiting for a bone marrow transplant, the procedure is "usually their last and best chance for beating the disease they've got," Bauer said.

To be eligible to join the bone marrow registry, you must be between the ages of 17 and 59 and in good health. The registration process is as simple as filling out a form and having a blood test.

An information package with registration form is available from CBS on their website, or by calling their toll free number. To register, simply fill out the health assessment questionnaire and consent form included in the package, and mail them in. A blood test will then be scheduled, and the sample will be tested to determine your bone marrow type. Those results will then be posted on the registry, to be accessed during any search for potential bone marrow matches.

If your bone marrow is a match to a patient waiting for a donation, further screening will be done to ensure the match is good, and a date will be set for collection of the marrow.

The bone marrow collection is done as a day surgery, under general anesthetic or spinal anesthetic, and involves removing bone marrow from your hip bone using a needle. There is usually some soreness in the hip for a few days, and donors are advised to avoid strenuous activities for a few weeks until their body replaces the bone marrow extracted.

As Robert's mother, Patricia, explained, by donating bone marrow, you're really not losing anything, and you could save a life. She hopes people will come forward and sign up with the registry, not just for Robert's sake, but to help anyone who needs a transplant.

For more information about joining the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor registry, or to receive the registration package, visit the CBS website at or call toll free at 1-877-366-6717.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Petten, Cheryl
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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