Jeremy Chow applied to be a stem cell donor a few years ago after watching a 30-second Canadian Blood Services commercial calling for Asian donors. The Victoria man was young and healthy and decided he would help out since, according to the commercial, there wasn’t enough Asian stem cell donors.
|Jeremy Chow's 10-year-old daughter drew a poster in support of her dad, who just finished chemotherapy.(Facebook/Match4Jeremy)|
The father of two young girls had no way of knowing that soon, he would be in need of new stem cells and the only donor match would be unusable, because it was his own.
Chow started feeling sick in November. Normally he could power through a flu, recalled his wife, Evelyn, but this was different.
“This time he was stuck in bed, he couldn’t get up,” she said. “And then the chest pain showed up a few days after he was feeling a bit better. It hurt even for him to breathe.”
With flu-like symptoms and a band of pain around his chest, Chow went to the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital. At first doctors thought he had a virus that would pass, but when his condition didn’t approve, Chow went back to the ER.
After a number of blood tests, the doctor came in his hospital room and pulled up a chair. Chow’s heart sank.
He was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia just before Christmas 2018.
Almost immediately, Chow began chemotherapy treatment in Vancouver, and now, months later he is happy to have completed his final round. For now, his hemoglobin and platelet counts will be monitored, but soon Chow’s body will begin to heal.
“We will continue on with treatment and just hope and pray that when he’s in remission, he stays in remission,” Evelyn said.
But there’s one piece of the treatment puzzle that Chow can’t access as easily as Caucasian patients can: stem cells.
According to Canadian Blood Services, these life-sustaining immature blood cells are found in bone marrow, peripheral circulating blood and umbilical cord blood. They can become red or white blood cells or platelets and do incredible work for people like Chow, replacing their unhealthy cells and reducing the likelihood that the cancer will return.
Over 80 diseases and disorders can be treated with a stem cell transplant.— Canadian Blood Services (@CanadasLifeline) March 11, 2019
Tag a friend or family member who is between 17-35 years old, if you think they should join the registry and possibly save a life! #CanadasLifeline #StemCellsForLife https://t.co/jttPizsZAW pic.twitter.com/qTswYUFQvj
Stem cell donations can be made through bone marrow stem cell donation or through peripheral blood stem cells which are drawn through a needle in a non-surgical procedure.
But stem cells can only be donated to recipients with similar genetic makeup to the donor. Matches are determined according to DNA markers – antigens found on white blood cells and inherited from both parents.
For Chow, who is half British and half Canton Chinese, there are no available donors in the national or worldwide registry.
“I was disheartened when I heard that there was no match for Jeremy, and then talking more with Canadian Blood Services and [learning] the fraction of how many mixed-race donors there are in the registry – three per cent is not great,” Evelyn said.
Chow might not get a stem cell transplant, but he and Evelyn are working, alongside Canadian Blood Services, to push for awareness around the need for donors, especially donors of bi-racial or Asian descent.
Chow said: “If all of this goes well [and] I stay in remission, and the awareness is out there and other people sign up to be donors and other people are getting the help they need, then that’s a win.”
The couple is organizing stem cell drives in Vancouver and hope to host a drive in Victoria soon. To learn more about donating, visit blood.ca/en.