News / Vancouver

Stem cell match saved life: Man

Ryan Chu is certain that if it weren't for an anonymous stem cell donor, he wouldn't be celebrating his 31st birthday Monday.

The Vancouver native was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 26 and needed a stem cell transplant from someone of Chinese descent.

It's a "miracle" he found two matches in three months, Chu said, because the Chinese population is dramatically underrepresented on the national stem cell donor database, OneMatch.

"I can guarantee you I'd be in the hospital or in the ground (if not for the transplant)," he said.

Chinese donors make up only 2 per cent of those registered on OneMatch, compared to 82 per cent of registered Caucasian donors.

This is why Chu will be using himself as a living example at the First National Chinese Stem Cell Drive.

The campaign encourages the Lower Mainland's Chinese community to register as stem cell donors.

"For (Chinese Canadians) to represent such a small piece of the pie, that's just embarrassing, considering how many Chinese people there are in Vancouver." Chu added the under representation is likely due to old world values.

"My grandmother said, 'Don't give any part of your body because ... you're giving your life force.' Now she's flipped around," he said. "You're giving someone a second chance at life."

Betty Funston, event co-chair, said there are at least 20 Chinese Canadian blood cancer patients in immediate need of a donor.

"These Chinese patients have only a 10 per cent chance of finding that matching donor versus 80 per cent chance for their Caucasian counterparts."

Dr. Alphonsus Hui, chairman of New Life Stem Cell Society in Vancouver and a speaker at the event, said the transplants need to be within one's ethnic group.

Hui said signing up for OneMatch is painless - volunteers take a swab of the inside of their mouths - and if they are ever called to donate, it's not worse than giving blood.

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