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Jack Knox to young men: Join the Swab Mob and save a life

Nov 13 2012
Molly Campbell rests at Vancouver Children’s Hospital where she is slated to receive chemotherapy treatment for leukemia.¬†

Molly Campbell rests at Vancouver Children’s Hospital where she is slated to receive chemotherapy treatment for leukemia.

Photograph by: Family photo , November 2012, molly-campbell.com

Here's a brief message to the young guys of Victoria: Man up.

Baby Molly needs you to do it.

Baby Madrona needs you to do it.

Shelley Eaves needs you to do it.

In fact, close to 1,000 Canadians who have leukemia, lymphoma and other immune disorders desperately depend on healthy young men, ideally those between the ages of 17 and 35, to register as stem-cell donors.

Happily, there are two opportunities to do just that in Victoria this week, thanks to Eaves.

Eaves is a Victoria bank employee who was treated with chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. Recently, she learned the cancer had returned and she needs a stem-cell transplant.

She reacted by doing some research - and was surprised by what she found: A) Signing up as a stem-cell donor is easy and painless, and B) the most ideal donors, young men, are the least likely to register.

"The more I learned, the more I realized there's such a huge need," she said.

So Eaves took it upon herself to organize a pair of registration drives.

The first, the Victoria Swab Mob, is from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. this Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Atrium building on Blanshard between Johnson and Yates.

The second is from 5: 309 p.m. Nov. 16 at UVic's McKinnon Gym, coinciding with the Vikes men's and women's basketball games.

It's an easy process: Somebody swabs your mouth with a Q-tip. The result goes in a DNA bank. There's no further obligation; if at some point you pop up as a genetic match for a stem-cell transplant, you can still say no.

Most transplants involve a process similar to giving blood. Less common is the harvesting of bone marrow, which involves day surgery for the donor. Transplants of blood from umbilical cords are even rarer.

Molly Campbell - Baby Molly - received a transplant six months after being diagnosed with leukemia at four weeks of age. She was rushed to B.C. Children's Hospital after relapsing last week. She turns two years old this month.

Little Madrona Fuentes, a Victoria baby who was diagnosed with leukemia in June, received a cord-blood transplant in B.C. Children's Hospital on Oct. 22. "We wouldn't be where we are today without a donor," said her mother, Michelle Purvis-Fuentes, on Monday.

She was on the phone from the Vancouver hospital room where she has spent the past 21 days in isolation with her 19-month-old daughter. Her son has to remain outside. "We've got a little desk set up where he plays Lego. He shows us what he's made through the window."

Madrona's health is slowly improving.

"She has some ups and downs, but today was actually a good day."

That the baby got a transplant at all was a long shot. With no family member proving a good match, Madrona was one of the 70 per cent of recipients whose transplanted cells come from a stranger. Given that she's of mixed ethnicity, it was something of a miracle that a donor was found.

Canada's ethnic communities are particularly under-represented in the donor bank. Most registrants are women, too, even though the greatest success is achieved with cells from young men. With the list of tasks best performed by such guys shrinking over time (by now it's down to posing for firefighter calendars and taking the lids off pickle jars), you would think they would leap at the chance to contribute in one of the few areas where they

remain indispensable.

In fact, the men signing up at the Swab Mob events can be up to 50 years of age. Both events are sponsored by Eaves' employer, RBC, and have the support of a score of organizations, ranging from the Victoria police and fire departments to Rowing Canada. Rower Brian Price, a childhood leukemia survivor who won gold and silver medals at the last two Olympics, is drumming up support in Victoria's athletic community.

The Swab Mob is a great idea, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it's being driven by Eaves, a woman whose focus could easily have been on her own problems, not those of others. "Bless her heart for putting this together," Purvis-Fuentes says.

If Eaves can step up, so can Victoria's men.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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