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Mixed race stem cell donors needed to save lives in new film

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Jenni Sheppard Sep 13, 2016 4:46 am

A heartwrenching new documentary due to screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival is hoping to help save lives by finding donors for mixed race cancer patients.

Mixed Match tells the stories of people whose unique multiracial heritage complicates their search for a stem cell or bone marrow transplant donor match.

This is due to the fact that stem cell and bone marrow transplants need a close genetic match – and the global stem cell registry is mainly made up of Caucasian donors.

“The difficulty of finding a bone marrow donor is a worldwide issue that affects tens of thousands of people a year,” says Mixed Match filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns.

“Few people know about this topic and I wanted to clear up misconceptions and encourage more minorities and multiethnic people to help increase patients’ odds of finding a match.”

Cancer patient Imani sleeps before receiving a bone marrow transplant (Mixed Match)

Cancer patient Imani sleeps before receiving a bone marrow transplant (Mixed Match)

A stem cell or bone marrow transplant is often the only treatment that offers the prospect of long-term recovery for someone suffering blood cancer.

But due to the increased complexity of their genetics, it can be almost impossible for mixed race patients to find a donor match, leaving many with no hope of survival.

Stearns hopes his film will spark a discussion on mixed identity, ethnicity and ancestry in medicine – and urges minorities and multiethnic people to register as donors.

“This is an opportunity to help save someone’s life who is battling cancer,” says Stearns of registering as a donor.

“This is a curative treatment for cancer that exists right now and, in this day and age, every patient should have the opportunity to find their perfect match.”

Cancer patient Alex Tung receiving a transplant from a donated umbilical cord (Mixed Match)

Cancer patient Alex Tung receiving a transplant from a donated umbilical cord (Mixed Match)

Mixed Match at VIFF

Where: Rio Theatre – 1660 East Broadway, Vancouver

When: Tuesday, October 4, at 6:30 pm

Tickets: Available at VIFF, $15

Mixed Match secondary screening

Where: Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas – 88 W Pender St, Vancouver

When: Thursday, October 6, at 1 pm

Tickets: Available at VIFF, $13


How to register as a donor

If you are of mixed Asian heritage, you can register and learn more about being a stem cell or bone marrow donor through charity OtherHalf at chinesestemcell.ca.

If you do not have Asian heritage, but would like to register as a donor, head to blood.ca to register and learn more.

To register as a donor you need to:

  • Be aged between 17-35
  • Be in good general health
  • Be willing to help any patient
  • Have provincial health care insurance

All you have to do to register is submit a cheek swab. If later called upon as a match, you will undergo a process to collect blood stem cells or bone marrow.

And if you’re about to become a new parent, you can also help save lives by donating your baby’s umbilical cord blood after giving birth.

The birth of Yuki, whose umbilical cord blood was donated to help save lives (Mixed Match)

The birth of Yuki, whose umbilical cord blood was donated to help save lives (Mixed Match)

OtherHalf, a charity hoping to close the gap of Chinese underrepresentation in the stem cell donor registry, will also be registering donors at the film’s secondary screening.


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Jenni Sheppard
Jenni is a former Senior Staff Writer at Daily Hive. Happy Vancouverite. Traveller, snowboarder, foodie, film fan, feminist, geek, cheesemaker, curler.

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