Stem cell registration huge success

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

PARIS- A registration blitz for potential stem cell donors was a huge success Sunday but the organizers, volunteers and family members at the event knew there's a very slim chance a perfect match was found for Josette Ambeau.

Ambeau is one of more than 800 Canadians waiting for life-saving treatment through stem cells, which are donated through blood donations or, less often, through bone marrow donations.

And, despite the fact there are 29 million potential donors on the global registry, there's no match yet for Ambeau and the others who wait.

"It's very important to Josette and I," said her husband, Don Ambeau, "that if Josette doesn't find a match, someone else has an opportunity. From today's event, perhaps five, 10 or even 20 other people will find a match and have a chance to live."

Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in August, Josette couldn't attend the event since chemotherapy has destroyed her immune system, leaving her susceptible to every winter cold and flu bug, but the mother of five was well represented by family and friends.

"It was an outstanding day," said Sharr Cairns, territory manager for OneMatch.

Cairns had told the family a good campaign would sign up 50 to 75 new donors so the Ambeaus set a goal of attracting 75.

Instead, more than double that opened their mouths to be swabbed and signed registration forms by the end of the afternoon.

The event was held at the Brant Sports Complex while a hockey tournament took place, aiming to tap into a wide number of perfect potential donors - males between 17 and 35.

Women are urged to get involved in OneMatch but studies are showing that patients do best when the donor is young and male.

Don and Josette Ambeau have lived in Paris for a decade but maintain deep roots in the wider community.

Don has been the owner-operator of Automated Solutions and Products in Brantford for 22 years and involved with Brantford Minor Hockey for 18 years. He also has plenty of friends connected to Paris Minor Hockey.

Josette is a stay-at-home mom with five kids - four of them boys, the youngest being 14.

Her oldest, Danielle Ambeau-Clarkson, has two children and Josette dotes on the grandkids.

"She's very strong mentally and has a good outlook on life," says her husband. "She's very real about her situation and we're thankful for the event helping others being aware of both the disease and the issue of stem cell transplants."

Stem cells harvested from a donor's blood - or sometimes from bone marrow - are used to replace diseased bone marrow in a patient for diseases such as leukemia, aplastic anemia and metabolic disorders.

About 30 per cent of people needing stem cells will find a match within their own family but most rely on the registry system to connect them with a lifesaver.

"We haven't been able to find a match for my mom," said Danielle Ambeau-Clarkson, "because she has a lot of antigens, but we're still hoping to find that special person and also to bring awareness about the disease and how people can change someone's life."

Don Ambeau said he and his wife are facing the disease both realistically but with optimism.

"We call this a bump in road, but we have a lot of conversations about the 'What ifs.' It's important to talk about it."

Safely at home, Josette Ambeau was monitoring the campaign via cell phone.

"Today's support is so overwhelming, it brings me to tears," she said.

"I've never felt so much love in my life."

Anyone who wants to sign up to the OneMatch registry can begin the process online at Kits can be mailed out to eligible donors who can do their own cheek swabs.