UBC students host stem cell drive for Victoria man with the goal of recruiting more bi-racial donors

On March 27, UBC Blood for Life hosted a stem cell drive for Jeremy Chow, a mixed-race man from Victoria who was recently diagnosed with cancer, to encourage more students of bi-racial backgrounds to donate blood and become part of the Canadian blood donor database.

The UBC club decided to host the drive in hopes of recruiting more bi-racial donors. According to the club, advocating for Chow’s cause also allowed them to encourage more people of colour to come to the blood drive.

“We try to host about 10 drives a year, and having a concrete face and a person that’s actually going through what we are helping, it gave people sort of an opportunity to see what we do in real life,” said UBC Blood for Life President, Justine Dhaliwal.

According to Dhaliwal, there are currently 25 mixed-race patients in Canada who don’t have a match.

“[Canada’s blood donor database] consists of 68 per cent Caucasian people, which is not what Canada is today. Canada is a multicultural country where there’s people from all backgrounds, and our database of donors is not very representative,” she continued.

Chow, a father of two young girls, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in November 2018. It is difficult for him to find a perfect stem cell match in the Canadian database because there are few bi-racial donors.

Raising awareness

For Chow, the most important part is to spread more awareness about the need for more donors from diverse backgrounds.

“The more donors that we get that are of the low percentage, I think I’ve been told there’s only three percent of the mixed-race that are in the system. If we can gain awareness and show people that being a donor is easy, less invasive than it used to be, then that’s a win to me,” he said.

Chow also emphasized that although he himself is not currently in a dire situation, blood drives such as this one are integral to spreading the word and including more people of colour in the Canadian database.

“[If] we gain awareness for other people, more donors that other people gain from this, they get the help they need, then that’s awesome,” he said.

Following the drive, Dhaliwal said UBC Blood for Life recruited 102 new donors, surpassing their goal of 100. Of these, there are 88 donors from diverse backgrounds.

The club hopes to continue hosting blood drives in the future to further diversify the Canadian database and allow more patients to find matches.

“Going forward we are going to keep continuing fulfilling those goals of achieving more donors and to make Canada’s database to be more representative,” she said.