Dr. Erica Harris worked with many athletes on the Canadian National Field Hockey Teams from 2006 to 2010. After being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia less than a month ago, the mother of two needs a bone-marrow transplant to survive. Visit onematch.ca to learn how you can register as a bone-marrow donor. Read her story in the Vancouver Sun below.
By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun
North Vancouver mother Erica Harris needs a bone-marrow transplant to survive, and her family is urging people to become donors to try to save her life, as well as the lives of other patients desperately seeking a match.
Harley Harris hopes his plea to join the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) online donation registry will resonate across B.C. and beyond.
“The message is the importance of how getting on this registry can save lives. Can save Erica’s life. Can save friends, family, loved ones,” said Harris, who has two young sons with his wife, Erica.
“Every one can save a mother’s life, can bring a mother home to her children. Our boys are two and five. They need their mama.”
Erica Harris is one of 211 B.C. residents waiting for stem cell and bone marrow donations; there are 977 waiting across Canada.
Harris, a chiropractor, was diagnosed less than a month ago with acute myeloid leukemia. Her first chemotherapy treatment didn’t work and she is now pegged as high risk. She is undergoing more aggressive chemotherapy, which must be followed by an “urgent” bone marrow transplant, Harley Harris said.
His wife’s brother was not a match, and so far, a search of the 11 million names on all the international bone marrow donor registries has not found a suitable candidate.
Canadians can register online with CBS’s OneMatch registry at onematch.ca.
In the majority of cases, there is no pain or long-term recovery for the donors, said Dr. John Shepherd, director of the Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program of BC, located at Vancouver General Hospital.
Last year, donations were collected from more than 200 people in B.C. using a minimally invasive procedure to collect stem cells from the blood with a needle.
Doctors in B.C. performed the more-invasive bone marrow harvest only 11 times last year; that procedure is used in only rare circumstances, Shepherd added.
He also urged people to register, as finding the right match for a patient on the waiting list requires locating someone with similar genetic markers.
“This is not a resource issue,” he said. “This is simply a matter of the complexity of trying to find that one-in-a-million person who is your one match.”
OneMatch, in particular, is encouraging men aged 17 to 35 from various ethnic backgrounds to register, said spokeswoman Olga Pazukha.
She cautioned, though, that donors should not join the registry just to see if they are a match for one particular patient, but should be willing to help any potential match.
“We want to make sure that our donors are committed donors who are willing to donate to anyone in need in the world,” Pazukha said.
Once Canadians register online, they are contacted by a CBS official within two weeks and sent a buccal swab kit. They must swab their inner cheek and mail back the kit, which is tested to determine if the donor matches anyone on the waiting list.
That process takes time. And time isn’t on Erica Harris’s side.
So North Vancouver resident Pat Sullivan —whose son Finn died of cancer in 2008 at the age of three — is floating the idea of holding a donation drive in a North Shore mall to make the process easier and quicker. “We want to speed this along,” he said.
Harley Harris is supportive of the idea — anything that will help his wife’s healthy “fighter” cells to begin working again.
Or, as his two young sons like to tell their mother, “Go, fighters, go!”
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