‘Needle in a haystack’: Stem cell drive seeks match for man with 2 rare forms of cancer

Friends and family of a Richmond, B.C., man fighting two rare forms of cancer are urging the public to sign up as stem cell donors in the hope they can find a match.

Martin Lintag, 30, has acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia and needs a stem cell donation to survive.

But he’s facing a bigger challenge than some others who develop these diseases. Lintag is Filipino — an ethnicity that’s poorly represented among the Canadian Blood Service’s (CBS) OneMatch donor database.

According to Sarah Jasmins, CBS stem cell territory manager for Western Canada, 68 per cent of the database is Caucasian. Less than one per cent is Filipino.

“Essentially, you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, and their haystack is so much smaller when compared to Caucasian patients,” she said.

Sharing an ethnicity with someone is not essential for a stem cell match, but makes it much more likely.

In a bid to find a donor, the CBS held a stem cell drive on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Parish at 4511 Williams Rd. in Richmond. The organization is looking for donors aged 17 to 35 years old.

Derek Leung, a friend of Lintag’s since the first grade, said he’s hopeful they’ll draw enough people to find that life-saving match.

“We’re trying with all our might to get the word out, to do things that might help,” he said.

“But it’s always still dicey. You never know when a match will come, when things will work in our favour, and so the more people that come out to this the better.”

The CBS says there are currently more than 1,400 people across the country waiting for stem cell donors.

You can register online to donate stem cells here.

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