Canada-wide search to find stem cell match for Alberta 2-year-old with leukemia comes to Hamilton

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Two-year-old Ezra Marfo has a rare form of leukemia and is from Alberta, but he’s in Hamilton this weekend for a stem cell swab testing event to hopefully find him a donor match.

“He’s hanging in there. He’s seen better days, but he’s still OK,” his dad Jacob said on Tuesday.

The Marfos live in Lac La Biche, Alta., where last year Ezra was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

That’s when Jacob began a national call-out, known as Swab4Ezra, to find a donor match for his son.

This weekend, the Ghana Association of Hamilton is holding a Swab4Ezra event at the Church of Pentacost on Barton Street. The swab drive will test community members for a potential stem cell match. 

According to Canada Blood Services, fewer than one per cent of people in the stem cell registry are of African descent.

Organizers hope to find someone who can save Ezra’s life and grow the list of stem cell donors of African descent. 

“Ezra has been here in the hospital for such a long time. We all need to come together to help him and to help other people too,” said Jacob Marfo.

The drive to increase the number of donors of African descent is being organized by the project Bring HOPE to Ezra.

They’ve organized efforts to test potential donors in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and now Hamilton. 

The swab-and-go event at the church on Barton Street is being organized by Elder Lawrence Obeng-Kittoe along with his family and friends. The testing is being done by community members with medical expertise, including Obeng-Kittoe’s wife and sister-in-law, who are nurses.

Obeng-Kittoe said many people don’t realize how simple, and painless, it is to test for a stem cell match. 

“The more I understood it, I realized that this is something that everybody should go to help,” said Obeng-Kittoe. 

Swabbing can be done at home 

All that is required is a swab inside your cheek. The most painful part is filling out the paperwork. Blood Services Canada also allows people to order a take-home kit online and do the swabbing test themselves.

If it turns out that you’re a match — someone who may be able to save a life — that process is simple and painless too, Obeng-Kittoe said.

“A lot of people thought that it had to do with going under the knife like an operation, but it’s none of that. It’s just to do with your blood.”

The stem cells are extracted by a blood test. Stem cells are separated from the blood and then injected into the patient in need.

The swab drive is at the church on Saturday (Sept. 17) from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday (Sept 18) starting at 12:30 p.m. until cleanup.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)



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