A Beaumont man battling blood cancer is in desperate need of a stem cell donor — and on Sunday, hundreds of people tried to help him find a match.
The family of 25-year-old Bille Nguyen recruited donors at a swab event at the Lemongrass Cafe in Edmonton. But finding a donor to save Nguyen’s life could be difficult because the NAIT engineering student was born to Vietnamese and Chinese parents.
Less than 30 per cent of registered stem cell donors are of ethnically diverse backgrounds, according to Canadian Blood Services, and patients are mostly likely to find a match within the same ethnic group.
Nguyen’s family organized Sunday’s event to raise awareness for the lack of stem cell donors for ethnic minorities, particularly for people of Asian descent.
His sister Susan Nguyen said they never expected that more than 400 people would register as donors after hearing her brother’s story.
“When we first started this campaign, we had no idea how we were going to do it,” she said, noting that the family first posted about helping her brother on social media, and then spoke to news organizations to raise awareness.
“It just blew up from there.”
People piled through the cafe doors Sunday, swabbing the insides of their mouths to collect DNA samples.
But it wasn’t just Edmontonians who offered their support. Susan said people from across the world have reached out to her family, from Germany to Japan to the United States.
“Nguyen says with every single person that messages that they want to join, he has these butterflies and he just is overwhelmed with positivity and thankfulness,” said Susan, who is waiting to find out if she can be her brother’s donor.
“And so when he finds out what happened today, he’s going to be blown away.”
‘Blood cancers affect everybody’
Nguyen was diagnosed with stage 4 subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma in January. He started chemotherapy in February, which successfully shrunk some of the abnormally coloured lumps on his body.
But new lumps are still growing, which is why getting a stem cell transplant is now Nguyen’s only option.
Susan said she hopes Sunday’s event can also help people who are in similarly desperate situations.
“Our main goal is not just to help my brother but also to get the word out to the community that blood cancers affect everybody,” she said. “It’s going to affect any age, any race, any religion. But when it affects an Asian, we’re at a disadvantage in that it’s hard for us to find a match.”
Nguyen will undergo six more rounds of chemotherapy this month. After that, he has 30 to 60 days to find a donor match.
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.