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Searching for bone marrow donors

On Saturday, April 17 Yorkton held a OneMatch Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Drive in Honor of Luke Boechler. The event was held in support of the Yorkton Terriers and ran all day at the Gallagher Centre Lobby.
Volunteer Darran Hornung, left, with Yorkton Terrier alumni and donor Evan Neibrandt. (man with black hat)

On Saturday, April 17 Yorkton held a OneMatch Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Drive in Honor of Luke Boechler. The event was held in support of the Yorkton Terriers and ran all day at the Gallagher Centre Lobby.

Luke Boechler played hockey this year with the Yorkton Terriers as a goaltender, but his season was cut short when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on February 4. Luke made the immediate choice to remain positive in his situation, and has never felt sorry for himself or asked "why me?" His positive attitude has been an inspiration to his family, friends, teammates, and complete strangers.

Luke is someone who has an impact on everyone he meets, and although quiet by nature, he is witty and always displays a positive attitude. His sense of humor shows through in the hospital where he cracks jokes at the nurses and plays the occasional prank.

Luke has undergone two successful rounds of chemotherapy and has just begun a third round. In the coming weeks Luke's treatment will take him out of province as he waits to receive a stem cell transplant. Luke's OneMatch stem cell match hasn't yet been found, so the Canadian Blood Services was honored to host the Luke Boechler recruitment drive in the hope that Luke and other stem cell patients will find a OneMatch.

Canadian Blood Services' OneMatch stem Cell and Marrow Network is a program that recruits blood stem cell donors, conducts searches for patients who need a blood stem cell transplant, and coordinates the collection and delivery when a match is found. The OneMatch network has over 250,000 volunteer donors who are part of a world-wide network of 63 registries and 44 cord blood banks. When searching for a match on behalf of a Canadian patient OneMatch has access to more than 13.7 million volunteer donors from 44 countries. The best chance at finding a match is from within ones own ethnic group. Canada's database is 82% Caucasian and 18% ethnic, but with 1 in 5 people foreign born there is a desperate search for donors of different ethnic representations.

Stem cell transplant can be used to treat leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia and many other diseases. Less than 30% of patients who need a stem cell transplant will find a match in their family. Right now there are 15 people in Saskatchewan and 817 people in Canada waiting to find a match.

When a transplant takes place the patients diseased marrow or stem cells are replaced with the donor's healthy stem cells. Contrary to popular belief being a donor is painless. If asked to donate bone marrow the donor is given an anesthetic, and a needle is inserted into the large bone of the pelvis. When the donor wakes up only a mild pain reliever is needed to alleviate discomfort. The more common procedure is similar to giving blood, and a needle is inserted into the donors arm. Blood is taken out and separated in a process called apheresis, within a closed system the stem cells are separated from the blood and then the blood is returned.

Anyone who was interested in being tested had to be between 17-50 years old, and be free of any major health concerns that would prevent them from being a donor. To be tested a donor was simply asked to fill in a questionnaire about their general health and bring their health card. A volunteer then instructed the donor on how to swab the inside of their mouth in order to get a DNA sample.

Kim Decker who organized the Stem Cell and Bone Marrow drive in Yorkton says, she "got involved because of Luke," and has known him and his family for many years as Luke and her son Curtis grew up together. Decker "felt that it was important to help" and decided "there had to be something we could do," and then she contacted OneMatch.

Decker says, the situation is overwhelming, but that Luke is "such an inspiration," as he lives by his slogan "you will not win, because I will not lose." All of the volunteers that spent the day collecting samples were people that know Luke personally, through sports or as co-workers of his parents Brian and Jeannine. Decker says, "everything came together so quickly, it was like a miracle."

Decker stated that, "Luke is representing the patients right now," and that if a match cannot be found for Luke then hopefully it can "benefit someone in his situation."

Teri Crutcher, the supervisor in charge of donor management with OneMatch, says it is important to get people involved, and find healthy committed donors. Crutcher reminds donors that it can take up to 20 years for them to be found as a match, but that they may also back down at any stage in the process.

Yorkton Terriers head coach Trent Cassan says it was a shock and surprise to initially find out that Luke was sick, and that it "took a while to sink in." The situation was hard to grasp for the team because Luke was the starting goaltender one day and was sick the next. Cassan says, the team had been "more motivated" because of how Luke has handled things, and that, "Luke's attitude has been infectious with everyone." Cassan also stated that the team is willing to do anything to help out, as Luke has been the teams "greatest inspiration."

There was a steady turn out of donors all day and Decker stated, "the community never ceases to amaze me." Luke has received continued support from minor hockey teams, other Saskatchewan Junior Hockey Teams, as well as friends family, and many dedicated Yorkton Terrier fans. Decker stared that, "patients feel so good to know they have the support of strangers," and this has allowed Luke to be a support system for other patients as well.

If anyone is interested in becoming a donor and was unable to attend the Stem Cell and Bone Marrow drive they can become a donor by visiting OneMatch will ask the donor to fill out their health information, and upon receiving the health information OneMatch will mail the donor a swab kit that can be mailed back to OneMatch at a later date.

The first 200 donors received a Dairy Queen coupon for an Arctic Freeze, double cheese burger, or coffee and a muffin courtesy of Mark at the Yorkton Dairy Queen. After a very successful day the Stem Cell and Bone Marrow drive had 329 donors.