Humboldt father’s cancer diagnosis spurs Saskatoon stem cell drive

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Humboldt father’s cancer diagnosis spurs Saskatoon stem cell drive
WATCH ABOVE: A stem cell swab drive at the University of Saskatchewan aims to find a donor for Jamie Ficko, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – Mar 7, 2019

A Humboldt man’s cancer diagnosis and struggle to find a stem cell donor are the catalysts to a cheek-swabbing drive at the University of Saskatchewan on Friday.

Jamie Ficko is a 38-year-old hard-working father who loves being outside with his three kids, aged three, six and seven, his wife Cynthia Ficko told Global News.

“He’s a good hockey dad, that’s for sure,” Cynthia said.

Jamie also played for the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), which led him to attend the team’s memorial golf tournament in August.

In the days that followed he felt unwell and noticed some swollen lymph nodes. His blood work came back and the hockey player-turned SaskEnergy worker tested negative for everything.

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In October 2018, doctors told him he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia and immediately admitted him for aggressive chemotherapy.

Jamie’s cancer went into remission only to return in mid-January. He underwent chemotherapy again and went back into remission, but doctors decided he needed a third dose followed by a stem cell transplant.

The ideal candidates for stem cell treatment are male donors who are healthy and between the ages of 17 and 35. Women can also donate.

After scanning an international network of databases including nearly 30 million people, there wasn’t a match to be found.

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“You have to do it one day at a time because there’s really no planning this disease,” Cynthia said.

Though they’d prefer a match closer to 100 per cent, doctors settled for Jamie’s father who was a 50 per cent match and in his 60s.

Jamie received a bone marrow transplant and has been in isolation in hospital since Feb. 19.

“Jamie already has his stem cell transplant, but in the future, his parents might not be there to be his 50 per cent match and he may have another disease or it might come back,” Cynthia said.

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Andrea Zwarich on opting for a stem cell transplant

His family and friends are now urging people to sign up to become stem cell donors.

Jamie’s former SJHL teammate and lifelong friend Justin Holmes said the option of not having a match was simply unacceptable.

“It wasn’t something that you just take lying down, so you do what you can and you try to find him a match,” Holmes said.

Holmes helped organize Friday’s stem cell drive at the University of Saskatchewan, which will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT in upper Place Riel.

Signed jerseys from NHLers Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brayden Schenn will be given away to a handful of participants in the drive, along with a signed Saskatchewan Rush jersey.

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“If saving a life isn’t enough motivation, then we’ve got some swag,” Holmes said with a laugh.

Registering to become a donor takes approximately 10 minutes and includes some paperwork and a cheek swab, according to Sarah Jasmins, stem cell territory manager with Canadian Blood Services.

Almost 1,400 patients in Canada need a stem cell transplant and can’t find a match in the international network or their immediate family.

“Seventy-five per cent of the time, they are going to be relying on a complete stranger to save their life,” Jasmins said.

If a person is selected to donate, the procedure is akin to a four to six-hour blood donation, Jasmins said. On rare occasions, the stem cells can be drawn through a needle to the back of a donor’s hip bone.

Potential stem cell donors in Canada can also register online on the Canadian Blood Services website and receive a kit in the mail.

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