NHL champion Jaden Schwartz was encouraging people to register as potential bone marrow or stem cell donors in honour of his sister, Mandi.
“She was my role model and she came down with cancer. It was very, very hard on our family and we did everything we could,” said the St. Louis Blues leftwinger.
Schwartz was attending the donor registration drive at Al Henderson’s Source for Sports.
It’s named for his sister, Mandi Schwartz, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008.
She passed away three years later because no bone marrow donor could be found.
“She meant the world to me,” Schwartz said.
Regan Brown and Michael Hellrich were attending to show how vital bone marrow donations can be.
“I was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks after graduation,” said Brown.
“And I went through a couple rounds of chemo. And then they told me that chemo wouldn’t cure me.”
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She was placed on the bone marrow registry. And out of every registered donor she only had one match — Hellrich.
Hellrich lives in Missouri and was walking through the Blues’ arena during a game when he stopped at a donor booth.
“It’s really special. It’s something that everybody can also be a part of, or at least potentially,” said Hellrich of his role in saving Brown’s life.
Brown’s cancer diagnosis and the bone marrow transplant occurred in 2017. The two still keep in touch, despite the fact that Brown lives in Mobile, Ala.
“We are a family now, with us and the Schwartz’s,” Hellrich said.
“It’s really, really special to have that bond now.”
Brown and Hellrich travel to different bone marrow registration events to encourage people to sign up.
Stem cells from bone marrow are needed to treat blood diseases like lymphoma or leukemia. According to the Canadian Blood Services website, up to 12 genetic markers are needed for a match.
It takes several swabs from the inside of a person’s mouth to gather the DNA needed to be tested.
While not everyone who registers will donate, Brown says it can make a critical difference.
“You could be the person who saves someone’s life or you could be somebody’s only match in the whole registry,” Brown said.
Brown and Hellrich said they’re hoping to have many more people register so that there are more stories like theirs and fewer like Mandi’s.
But Jaden says his sister’s story isn’t over.
“She lost the battle but she’s still impacting people and having an effect on people and that’s really, really important. And I know she’d be amazed at what she left behind,” he said.