July 25, 2013 4:19 am
Updated: July 25, 2013 7:31 pm

Stem cell transplant gives hope to leukemia patient

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HALIFAX – Janice Davidson is getting a new lease on life.

On Thursday night, the 39-year-old leukemia patient will undergo a stem cell transplant from an anonymous donor in Halifax.

“You can’t believe there is someone out there in the world who you don’t know who is willing to give you a gift that is like no other really,” the mother of three said.

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Davidson was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago. Since then, she has tried several different treatment options and relapsed twice. A stem cell transplant is now her best option to beat the disease.

“It’s not going to be an easy path but we know we’re on the right path,” she said. “We know what we need to do and we are very hopeful for the future.”

The latest figures from One Match, the national program for blood stem cell donors and recipients, show that there are about 750 Canadians waiting to receive a stem cell transplant. Eight of those are in Nova Scotia.

Factors such as genetics, ethnic background and treatment affect wait time in receiving a transplant so Davidson is extremely thankful that she found a match. It is especially fortunate because her three siblings were not matches and there are only 317,810 donors registered in Canada. Of those, 10,337 live in Nova Scotia.

Husband Ian says he cannot express enough how thankful he is to the donor, adding that he or she is now like another member of their family.

“I would say thank you for your generosity, for your kindness, for your belief in the world and wanting to make it a better place. It’s amazing,” he said.

Davidson underwent five days of chemotherapy to prepare for Thursday’s transplant. Then she and her husband are ready to tackle whatever comes their way.

“We feel like we are going to come out on top this time. It’s our time to shine,” Ian said with a smile.

If you are interested in becoming a donor, head to www.onematch.ca.

Some other interesting statistics courtesy of One Match:

– there is a 25% chance you can find a stem cell match in your family

– Caucasians make up 72% of the One Match network; the other 28% come from other ethnic groups, meaning it is usually toughest for those coming from an ethnic background to find a match

– there is a need for more donors in Canada: close to 80% of stem cell donations have to be imported from outside the country

– donors and recipients can meet one another but One Match’s policy is that they have to wait at least one year after a successful transplant to meet; after that, if both parties are willing, One Match will provide contact information for them to meet
From One Match:

How can someone register/donate?

To donate, register online at www.onematch.ca. We will send you a buccal swab kit with clear instructions and cotton swabs that you will use to swab the inside of your cheek (much like on TV’s CSI and Bones). You’ll send the sample back to us in the return envelope provided. We’ll enter your name into the database and contact you when a match is found.

What happens after someone registers with OneMatch?

After completing the registration, the buccal swab sample will be tested and added to the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network database.

Daily, the test results from your swab sample will be compared to any patient in the world needing a stem cell transplant. If a registrant is identified as a match, OneMatch will contact him/her to re-confirm health status and commitment to the program. At that stage, further testing will most likely be required to see if the potential donor is the best match for the patient. This testing is typically a blood test and can involve other health and infectious disease testing.

If the potential donor is deemed as the best match, he/she will be asked to donate stem cells in one of two ways: through blood or bone marrow. Once stem cells are collected from the donor they will be given intravenously to the recipient. The donation could have a life-saving effect on the patient.

How does a stem cell transplant work?

Because bone marrow, blood or cord blood are sources of stem cells, all transplants are stem cell transplants. Depending on where the stem cells are taken from, they can be referred to as “bone marrow transplants” – from the bone marrow, “peripheral blood stem cell transplants” – from the blood flow, and “cord blood transplants” – from an umbilical cord.

Essentially – a patient’s diseased marrow/stem cells are replaced with the donor’s healthy stem cells. It works like this: the patient is given radiation and chemotherapy to destroy both of their diseased bone marrow/ stem cells and their immune system. This is necessary to prevent rejection of the donor’s cells. The donor’s stem cells are then collected and given intravenously to the patient.

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