OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network

When your coxswain, (person in charge of the crew), barks “firm up,” all rowers know it is time to reach deep inside to win the race. Canada’s most popular coxswain, Brian Price, knows that winning the big race can also take place off the water.

As a men’s eight rowing Olympic champion and a cancer survivor himself, Brian knows first-hand the amount of personal drive needed to win the race of your life. Something not missed when Brian joined forces with the entire community of Victoria, B.C. to support the “Get Swabbed University Challenge” in honour of local patient Shelley Eaves who is fighting leukemia. Like nearly 1,000 Canadians, she is searching for an unrelated stem cell donor.

As timing can be everything when fighting cancer, it just so happened that the “Get Swabbed University Challenge” was on its trek across Canada’s many communities encouraging young male Canadians to embrace the opportunity to save lives by registering as a stem cell donor. Completing its third year as one of the biggest national OneMatch campaigns, the “Get Swabbed University Challenge” includes universities competing to register the highest number of optimal donors to the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. Optimal stem cell donors are male donors in the 17 to 35 age group as they provide the best post-transplant outcomes.

Working with the OneMatch team, 28 universities across Canada joined forces to add more diverse young male donors to the OneMatch Network. Students organized swab events and promoted blood donation as another way to help patients in need.

“As you start this match-seeking journey you realize how our youth, particularly young men, have the potential to save the life of a patient anywhere in the world,” says Shelley. “The rewards are fantastic — on the one hand someone’s life could be saved and on the other, the satisfaction of doing something really huge and giving back to the world. And all through a simple cheek swab.”

“Registering is so easy, and the impact is life-changing,” says Tina Wilyman, student champion at the University of Saskatchewan.

With the work of students from coast to coast alongside OneMatch staff, the “Get Swabbed University Challenge” brought in 5,723 optimal stem cell donors and booked 249 appointments for blood donation. The students did not back down from an additional challenge of ensuring that 70 per cent of all registrants are young men. In fact, exactly 70 per cent of those who registered were young male potential donors. Uniting the community from university student bodies to Canadian Blood Services employees and the general public was key for the success of the events, as well as for building stronger community awareness of blood and stem cell needs of all Canadian patients.

Rowing has a term for second chance when racing called a “repecharge.” For Shelley, and all the other patients waiting for their match, their repecharge was found in the hearts of all the good people across our nation.