Seventeen years ago the plight of six-year old Elizabeth Lue gripped Canadians and prompted 10,000 people to step forward in hopes their stem cell donation could save her young life. In spite of this generosity, no match could be found and Elizabeth died from a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia.

Today, 511 patients across Canada, like Elizabeth, are waiting for an unrelated stem cell match - more than a third of them from Toronto. If they are Caucasian, the odds are good a match will be found, around 75%. But if they are Black, South Asian, Filipino or Chinese, like Elizabeth, the odds are still stacked against them (estimated 10-30% chance).

What are stem cells? They are unique cells found in our bloodstream and bone marrow with the potential to heal a broad array of life-threatening diseases, including certain cancers.

The OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network is partnering with HipHopCanada to raise awareness about Canada's unique need for a more ethnically diverse stem cell registry. Medical research shows the best chance of survival is a stem cell transplant from a member of a patient's own ethnic community. But less than one in six potential donors on OneMatch is non-Caucasian. And the challenge becomes even greater in large urban centres like Toronto where there are many multi-ethnic children with more complicated stem cell markers.

"I was a mother who wanted so much to save her beloved daughter. And I would do anything in the world for her, says Phillipa Lue. "During the 1990 'Save Elizabeth Campaign,' I was overwhelmed by the tremendous response and will never forget the kindness of complete strangers. Unfortunately Elizabeth could not be saved. Her legacy of hope lives on in the work of the Elizabeth Lue Bone Marrow Foundation which was established to assist people in need of unrelated bone marrow donors to find a suitable donor match, particularly in communities that are underrepresented in the Registry."

"We are very honoured to have the public support of Elizabeth's mother, Phillipa Lue," says Beverly Campbell, Director of OneMatch. "No one should have to watch their child suffer. And Phillipa's commitment to help us get this message out along with HipHopCanada is keeping Elizabeth's spirit alive and will encourage more healthy Canadians to be the one to save a stranger's life."

Canadian Blood Services has embarked on this journey to diversify the network with the first-ever national stem cell awareness week from November 3rd-10th. An important part of building this awareness is the re-branding of the former Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry (UBMDR) to OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network with two major launch parties in Vancouver and Toronto.

To create a buzz, HipHopCanada is hosting a second free concert in Toronto presenting artists and DJs in support of OneMatch as well as graffiti artists and b-boy/b-girls. The first concert in Vancouver earlier in the week drew an audience of about 1,000 people and about 150 new registrants so far. In Toronto leading artists such as Michie Mee, D.O., JD Era, and hosts Scott Boogie and Flow FM MC Dr. Jay-our media partner for the event, will be performing at the Berkeley at 315 Queen Street East from 18:00-22:00 tonight. HipHopCanada became involved when colleague Nick "Schilly" Schilbach died of leukemia at the age of 22. He made it his mission to raise awareness of the need for more ethnically diverse stem cell donors. Jesse Plunkett, President of HipHopCanada is carrying on in his memory.

"It's not fair, in any sense of the word, that one Canadian should have more of an opportunity to beat a bout of cancer than another, based simply on ethnicity," says Plunkett. "We can change these odds by making OneMatch more reflective of the ethnically diverse society we live in."

Along with ethnicity, there is also strong clinical evidence to support than in unrelated transplants, donor age if an important factor. While anyone aged 17-50 who is in good health is encouraged to join, donors aged 18-30 have been associated with the greatest survival of recipients. But, OneMatch's database of 220,000 potential donors has only about 25,000 people registered in that age bracket. So our targeted outreach to ethnically diverse youth is critical to saving lives.

Charles Abezis is a young Toronto father of two who beat the odds after he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. "There was only a rare possibility of finding a match, given my mixed Sephardic Jewish blood on my mother's side, and the Ashkenazi Jewish blood on my fathers," he said. "But we found a 10 out of 10 match and the transplant happened, and life went on. I began to get healthy again and feel better. I got my life back, I got a chance to raise my children, and experience joy again."

About Canadian Blood Services

Canadian Blood Services is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization that manages the blood supply in all provinces and territories outside of Quebec and oversees the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network (previously known as the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry, UBMDR). A dedicated team of about 4,800 staff and 17,000 volunteers enable us to operate 40 permanent collection sites and more than 20,000 donor clinics annually. Canadian Blood Services is a non-governmental organization, however the Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Health provide operational funding, and the federal government, through Health Canada, is responsible for regulating the blood system.


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