‘Hope on the Hill’ rallies MPs, staff to support stem cell donation

November 10, 2023
Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Jacob Marfo pose in front of a Canadian Blood Services backdrop

Special event inspired by a stem cell donor helps educate Parliamentarians and recruit potential donors of the future

Elected officials and Hill staff joined representatives from Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Quebec at a special event called ‘Hope on the Hill’ on Nov. 1.

Inspired by Adam Yahn, a stem cell donor who wanted to spread awareness by engaging elected officials, the event gave participants the opportunity to join the stem cell registry themselves. At least 30 people registered on site, and many took away kits to distribute to others who could not attend.

More than 20 Members of Parliament (MPs), representing regions across Canada and across party lines, showed up to support the cause. Many were motivated by the experience of their colleague, cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, who received a lifesaving stem cell transplant in 2019.

“It was great to see so much support from the MPs and their staff,” says Chris van Doorn, community development manager for Canadian Blood Services. “Not only did we add a number of potential donors to the stem cell registry, but we also made strong connections for future collaboration.”

A group of Ministers and Members of Parliament pose in front of a Canadian Blood Services
Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who received a stem cell transplant, was joined by other MPs from his party’s Atlantic caucus at the ‘Hope on the Hill’ event to support Canadian Blood Services’ Stem Cell Registry. From left to right, participants included: MP Kody Blois, MP Sean Casey, MP Serge Cormier, Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Minister Gudie Hutchings, MP Andy Fillmore, and Minister Seamus O'Regan. 
Icon of two swabs

What are stem cells?

Stem cells, specifically blood stem cells, are immature cells that can develop into any cell present in the bloodstream. Stem cell transplants can be used to treat more than 80 diseases and disorders, many of them life-threatening.

Learn more about donating stem cells

In Canada, most people aged 17-35 are eligible to join a stem cell registry, which provides matching volunteer donors for patients in need of lifesaving stem cell transplants. People in most Canadian provinces join Canadian Blood Services’ Stem Cell Registry, while Quebec residents join the registry operated by Héma-Quebec.

Canada’s two stem cell registries connect with each other, as well as with similar ones around the world, to provide the most suitable matches for patients. 

A group of people surrounding a table covered with stem cell registry packages and swab kits.
Parliament Hill staff swabbed their cheeks as part of the process of joining the stem cell registry.
Learn more about what happens after you swab.

Why we need a diverse stem cell donor base 

Due to genetic factors outside of anyone’s control, some patients are less likely to find a matching stem cell donor within their family. In fact, more than three quarters of patients must rely on unrelated volunteer stem cell donors, matched through a stem cell registry. 
Patients are more likely to find a match with an unrelated donor whose ancestral or ethnic background resembles their own. However, people who are Black, Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic, or mixed-race collectively make up only about a third of registrants on Canadian Blood Services’ Stem Cell Registry. Having a stem cell registry that reflects Canada’s diversity helps ensure that suitable matches can be found for people who need stem cell transplants.  

The MPs and Parliament Hill staff who attended ‘Hope on the Hill’ were also inspired and moved by meeting Jacob Marfo (seen with Dominic Leblanc in the photo at the top of this article), who tragically lost his two-year-old son Ezra last year while waiting for a stem cell match.

Jacob travelled to the event from Alberta. He remains dedicated to growing the diversity of the stem cell registry so that no other family has to go through what his own family experienced. He attended the event to help emphasize the need to grow the stem cell registry to be as richly diverse as our country.

Jacob Marfo and Hon. Greg Fergus having a discussion.
Special guest Jacob Marfo with House of Commons Speaker, Hon. Greg Fergus. Jacob’s young son Ezra passed away while waiting for a match. 

Right now, nearly 1,000 patients in Canada need stem cell transplants to save their lives, and for many, it’s a challenge to find a matching donor. With the support and engagement of elected officials and their teams, who represent communities across the country, more people across Canada will hear about the need for stem cell registrants ― bringing hope to all those who are waiting for a lifesaving match.

Young adults between the ages of 17 and 35 can bring hope to patients by joining Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry. Check your eligibility and register online at Blood.ca/Register4Stem

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