Fil-Canadian youngster needs a half-Vietnamese stem cell donor
Three-year-old Xavier Pesito’s family received devastating news on Jan. 11. Their young son was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML), a rare form of blood cancer that affects young children.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Michigan explains that one to two children out of a million each year are diagnosed with JMML, most often in kids younger than 4 years, and 10% of all cases develop in infants younger than 3 months.
With a stem cell transplant the only successful cure, Xavier’s chances of survival depend on finding a match. While there is a 25% chance of finding a donor within his own family, none of his immediate family members are a match. His one-year-old sister, Lily, is only a 25% match, according to a Star.com report.
Xavier would need a donor who is also half-Vietnamese and half-Filipino, between the ages of 17 and 35 and in good general health without any infectious diseases or underlying conditions.
The chances of finding a match are higher if a donor shares the same ethnic background, but finding a match can be difficult considering the lack of diverse donors in the Canadian stem cell registry.
According to Canadian Blood Services, Southeast Asian stem cell donors make up two per cent of the Canadian stem cell database. Mixed race donors make up 3.6 per cent of the database. That compares to an overwhelming 68% of stem cell donors being Caucasian.
“For a patient like Xavier, we would not only search our own Canadian registry of about 460,000 people, but also search the global registry with about 38 million potential donors that we have access to.”
According to Elmoazzen, roughly 80 to 90% of Canadian patients receive transplants outside of the country.
However, international transplants are becoming increasingly difficult because of border restrictions brought on by the pandemic. And the need for domestic donors is increasingly urgent considering stem cell recruitment has dropped by roughly 70 per cent due to the cancellation of many community swabbing drives.
Despite everything, the Pesito family remains optimistic, crediting the power of social media for sharing their story and spreading awareness for juvenile leukemia and diverse stem cell donation.
Local initiatives such as OtherHalf also bring awareness to the need for diverse donors, dispelling myths regarding stem cell donation among the Chinese-Canadian population and encouraging potential donors to get registered.
Anyone between the ages of 17 and 35 interested in registering as a potential stem cell donor can register online, request a swabbing kit, and send samples through the mail.
The family has also set up a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of transportation for hospital visits and living expenses.