Canadian Blood Services: Only half of donors follow through with stem cell transplants

TORONTO — Canadian Blood Services is pleading to registered stem-cells donors to follow through with their commitments.

The organization says that only 50 per cent of those potential donors who are registered to give stem cells actually follow through with the procedure when the call comes.

They say not enough Canadians are honouring their commitment to donate stem cells, which can pose potentially dangerous consequences to those who need them most.

“Most people are passionate when they join the registry about helping a patient in need,” said Dr. Heidi Elmoazzen, director of stem cells at Canadian Blood Services.

Canada is currently well below the international standard target of 80 per cent donor availability, set by the World Marrow Donor Association. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem as fewer people are registering to donate.

“The biggest challenge is recruiting new donors because recruitments happen at community swabbing events. We normally get thousands of registers this way but the pandemic has slowed our efforts,” she said.

She says people do not follow through because they sometimes misunderstand the registry process, as their stem-cell donation can be donated to anyone in Canada, or elsewhere around the world.

“We want people to be able and willing to donate to anyone who may need those stem cells,” said Elmoazzen.

In other cases, young teenagers who register to donate stem cells are sometimes persuaded to cancel the appointment by their parents or guardian, according to Elmoazzen.

Stem-cell donation is a long-term commitment, and while a potential donor may want to join the registry, it might wait years before they are matched with a patient in need. When that call comes, the need is typically urgent.

Any delay, such as one caused by a need to seek an alternative donor — if one can even be identified — can put a patient at risk. Registered donors also sometimes change their contact information or mailing addresses, making it more difficult for contacting a potential donor.

“Part of the challenge is when we call upon somebody and they don’t go through with it, it just adds time to a patient who doesn’t have a lot of time,” said Elmoazzen.

There are also legitimate reasons why potential donors may back out of a procedures, based on health history and ineligibility.

The organization is asking all registered donors to reaffirm their commitment to the registry.

Current registrants who no longer wish to be considered as a potential stem-cell donor should contact the organization to update their status.

Canadian Blood Services is also accepting new donors online, and are mailing swabbing kits to people who are considering to register.

“Only 25 per cent of patients are successful in finding a matching donor within their family, leaving 75 per cent who rely on the generosity of a stranger to save their lives,” she said.

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