Relatives of cancer sufferer stump for stem cell donations

Published: February 20, 2013


Community Stem Cell Awareness Week at SFU's Surrey campus on Feb. 20, 2013. (Ric Ernst / PNG)

Aman Sanghera, whose cousin has lymphatic cancer, attends Community Stem Cell Awareness Week at SFU’s Surrey campus on Feb. 20, 2013.  Ric Ernst/PNG

When Gurjeet Brar was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer last October, her health instantly deteriorated.

“There was a point where she wasn’t moving or responding and they actually kind of said, ‘Sorry we don’t know if we can do any more for her,’” cousin Aman Sanghera told Vancouver Desi.

Brar’s family raced to get tested, hoping to be a stem cell donor, but no one was a match.

“It’s hard,” said Sanghera.

They’ve since been doing what they can to raise awareness by holding community stem cell drives like the one at Surrey’s SFU campus Wednesday, which marked the start of B.C.’s Community Stem Cell Awareness Week, running Feb. 20-27. Sanghera and family were at the university campus with posters of Brar, encouraging the South Asian community to register as a donor.

According to OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, nearly 1,000 Canadians are waiting for a stem cell match from an unrelated donor. And although 330,000 people are currently registered, only 25 per cent are from ethnically diverse backgrounds — who are the most needed donors.

Brar’s ideal donor would be a young South Asian male aged 18 to 44.

“In our ethnicity a lot of people have this misconception of what it is [to be a donor] and how you can help,” said Sanghera. “They think that they have to go through a surgery or they’re not going to be well and their health is in jeopardy — which is not the case.”

Becoming a donor is simple: A cheek swab puts you in the registry and if you ever come up as a match, donating stem cells is just like giving blood.

“It’s really not a big deal if you help save a life,” said Sanghera. “It’s not giving up a kidney or anything — (stem cells are) something we can get again – we naturally produce it.”

This is exactly what Penny Chan with OtherHalf Chinese Stem Cell Initiative — another ehtnicity in dire need of donors — is trying to help people understand.

“They’re worried – they think ‘I have to donate part of myself’ … people are unaware of what it takes,” she said. “It’s like giving blood.”

“In two or three weeks you’re as good as new.”

To help Brar’s cause visit

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