MISSISSAUGA – Dorothy Vernon-Brown is on the search of her life.
When she was diagnosed with acute myaloid leukemia in August, 2013, the Mississauga mother said “it was like a huge kick in the gut.”
She underwent chemotherapy shortly after the diagnosis, which helped her into remission, but to survive, she has been told her only chance is a bone marrow transplant.
“Bone marrow cells rescue patients from the lethal effect of chemotherapy,“ says Vernon-Brown’s oncologist, Dr. Mark Minden.
Since starting a relationship with Canada’s stem cell and marrow network, One Match, Vernon-Brown’s search has come up empty.
Vernon-Brown says she is desperate: Recent tests show lower white blood cell counts in her blood – an indication the cancer may be coming back.
But she’s also worried about how few donors are from the black community. Vernon-Brown has been told her chance of finding a compatible donor are one in 10,000.
Genetics are key in finding potential stem cell and bone marrow donors says, One Match patient and transplant liaison, MaryLynn Pride said.
“There is only a 25 per cent chance that even a sibling will be a match,” says Pride. “We have patients from all ethnic communities that are currently in need of a stem cell transplant.”
Black Canadians makes up only 1 percent of all Canadians registered as potential donors, according to Pride.
Vernon-Brown has taken it upon herself to start an organization called Donor Drive 4 Dorothy to raise awareness and encourage more donors from all ethnic communities. She has organized cheek swab events in Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary that has seen 400 more black registrants enter the Canadian system.
But there’s still no potential match for Vernon-Brown. Since she was born in Jamaica, Vernon-Brown is now taking her search private – to that country, where there is no donor registry.
Vernon-Brown is trying to crowd-fund $250,000 to take 1,000 cheek swab kits to Jamaica in mid-October to swab the cheeks of Jamaicans.
The test kits wil then be sent to a Portland company, Kashi Clinical Laboratories, where they will be analysed.