Anonymous stem cell and blood donors saved her life, now she’s giving back
Miranda Webber celebrated her first “re-birthday” following a stem cell transplant by fundraising for Canada’s Lifeline
For two years, Miranda Webber has dreamed of giving back to Canada’s Lifeline to thank the stem cell and blood donors she’s come to rely on.
This year, to celebrate her first anniversary, or “re-birthday”, following a lifesaving stem cell transplant from an anonymous donor, she started a fundraising campaign which is doing just that.
“Every time I sit in the hospital getting a transfusion — and I see the many other people getting a transfusion as well — I just think, this wouldn’t be happening without Canadian Blood Services and its donors,” says Miranda. “I knew it was the place I wanted to give back to because it’s given me so much.”
Miranda’s online campaign using Canadian Blood Services do-it-yourself tool, raised an incredible amount of financial support in record time. She’s also inspired people to donate blood and join the stem cell registry by sharing her health journey and the significance of donors in her and her family’s life.
If you rewound the clock to early 2020, you would find Miranda living a busy city life in Vancouver, B.C. with her husband, Ryan, and their active, soccer and dance-loving daughter, Molly. Miranda had a thriving career, and she took great pride in her health-focused way of life — she never predicted the journey she would soon have to face.
One phone call changed everything
It was in June 2020 when Miranda began to feel like something was wrong. Her energy was quickly being depleted and she couldn’t exercise the way she used to. Two months later, Miranda was referred to a hematologist following a round of bloodwork. She also had a bone marrow biopsy which, at the time, came back normal.
It would be another five weeks before indicators of leukemia started showing up during a regular blood monitoring appointment.
In the middle of a virtual work meeting, Miranda got a call from her specialist: she had acute myeloid leukemia. She was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital’s leukemia and bone marrow transplant program the next day.
“I had a hard time processing what I was hearing. I just went into shock,” says Miranda. “I was close to turning 33 when I got that call, I had no comorbidities and never had major health problems before, so I felt like I had been t-boned.”
Miranda’s first hospital admission involved 42 days of chemotherapy and treatment — including several blood and platelet transfusions. And, at the height of the pandemic, these 42 days were spent entirely separated from her close-knit family.
Going home to organize her daughter’s craft cupboard and enjoying something seemingly simple, like colouring with Molly, became a precious routine and source of comfort for Miranda after each challenging hospital stay. And the support she received from her mother and mother-in-law — who temporarily relocated to the mainland from B.C.’s Sunshine Coast to support Miranda’s family — was another source of strength during the challenges of that year.
Not long into Miranda’s treatment, doctors recommended a stem cell transplant because of a certain mutation on the leukemic cells in her blood. Miranda quickly learned she would need to find a match from an unrelated person on Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry, or one of the 55 international registries we are connected to worldwide.
Thankfully, she found a match from an anonymous person who had joined one of these registries — a bittersweet moment for Miranda as not everyone shares her luck. Currently more than 1,000 people in Canada are waiting to find their stem cell match.
“I felt so fortunate because I know there are so many people who are waiting for a transplant as there’s no match for them. Every time I see a story about it, it breaks my heart because you feel helpless. And I could relate to someone in that position,” recalls Miranda.
Support of blood, platelet and stem cell donors lead to “re-birthday” celebrations
After another round of chemotherapy to keep her in remission, and four days of challenging preparation for her transplant, which involves suppressing one’s immune system so that it will not attack the donor cells, Miranda had a stem cell transplant on Feb. 1, 2021. Miranda’s “re-birthday” as she and her family like to call it was an emotional day, but her community also made it feel like a special day worth celebrating.
One year later, Miranda honoured that anniversary by giving back to Canada’s Lifeline herself and inviting her network and extended family to join her through her community fundraiser.
Miranda had some twists and turns in her journey, including a relapse of her leukemia which has left her more dependent on blood donors than ever before. Despite these changes, she knew this was the right time to invite her community to help make a difference.
By sharing an emotional first-hand account of her journey on her personal fundraising page, Miranda quickly surpassed her fundraising goal of $8,000 in a matter of days. “With the anniversary of my stem cell transplant, I thought it was a beautiful time to do this and share my story because I’ve been so private about it for so long,” says Miranda.
Miranda started with a fundraising campaign but doesn’t plan to stop there. With many people in her family living on the Sunshine Coast of Canada — far from a blood donor centre on the mainland —her fundraiser was a perfect starting point. It gave everyone the chance to take part, no matter where they lived or whether they could make a biological donation.
The beauty of all these financial gifts is that they will help patients across Canada. They fuel everything from recruitment of thousands of new donors every year who are needed to keep pace with patient demand, to research in transplantation and transfusion medicine.
In time, Miranda hopes to also organize a Partners for Life team, so that people in her supportive circle across the country can give back through donations of blood and plasma, too.
At this stage in Miranda’s journey, she continues to rely on blood donors for regular transfusions and she knows she’s not alone. She estimates that over the course of her treatment in the last year and a half, she’s had more than 60 red blood cell and platelet transfusions.
“I will forever hold immense amounts of gratitude for your organization and the willingness of these unsung heroes who are helping to save my life and that of other Canadians.”
When people rally their friends, family, colleagues and community together through fundraisers in support of Canadian Blood Services, they are helping to save lives. Visit give.blood.ca/DIY to easily set up a personalized fundraising page of your own or learn more about the many ways to give back to Canada’s Lifeline.