OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network

shooting_from_the _stars

When Will Njoku enters a room everyone immediately stands straighter, raising their heads to address him. No, they’re not intimidated, but standing at 6’9” Will has an interesting perspective of the world. This Canadian National Men’s Basketball team player and former NBA draft pick is no stranger to overcoming obstacles to succeed. Now, he is thankful to his community for presenting fresh ways where his passion for helping others has a new potential to save lives.

At OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, this gratitude can be heard in many forms. For patients, winning the “lottery of life” is a joyous affair full of exuberance and elation. For others gratitude is expressed in deeply personal stories of loved ones who have either found a match or continue to search.

This was the case with Will Njoku, whose siblings have been affected by sickle cell disease. Sickle cell is a blood disorder affecting red blood cells and requires patients to undergo regular blood transfusions and often stem cell transplantation to survive. The disease largely affects people with African and Caribbean ancestry.

In February, Will partnered with OneMatch to celebrate Black History Month with an event to register new stem cell donors and spread the word about the need in his Nova Scotia community. Pulse sat down with Will to learn more about his involvement.

Pulse: What prompted you to get involved with Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Network?
Will: I was speaking at a conference in Halifax where different vendors were part of the event. Looking around I noticed one of the tables belonged to OneMatch, which I’d never heard of. Once I understood its purpose, I went over and offered my swab sample and just like that I joined the international stem cell database. As I wanted to do more I offered my services as a volunteer. This seemed right as this was the first initiative that targeted sickle cell disease. My sister is currently battling sickle cell and I lost my brother to the disease when he was 19. So you can see how important this was to me.

Pulse: Doctors are saying young men often make the “optimal” stem cell donor. What would you say to young men to get them to register with OneMatch or donate blood?
Will: I’d say that as young men we are in a position to make a difference to so many people and all we have to do is join the database by taking a swab of cheek cells. No needles. No urine sample. You are in a position to help so many by giving so little initially and being ready to donate if called.

Pulse: You are a role model locally and to a community of young men and aspiring athletes. How do you hope this next generation directs their efforts and energy when it comes to saving the lives of those in their community?
Will: We are all getting information faster than ever before. I’d be happy to see social media continue to show how simply and quickly we can make a difference. By educating ourselves on how and where all of us are needed, we join the team and do what has to be done to make our communities healthier. I’d like to see young men take pride in that and encourage each other to participate.

Pulse: What type of feedback have you received from people recognizing you are involved with Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Network?
Will: I received many thank you messages from many people in Nova Scotia. This is just a segment of the one message that has inspired me “Will, I just want to say thank you for your commitment to the I understood its purpose, I went over and offered my swab sample and just like that I joined the international stem cell database. As I wanted to do more I offered my services as a volunteer. This seemed right as this was the first initiative that targeted sickle cell disease. My sister is currently battling sickle cell and I lost my brother to the disease when he was 19. So you can see how important this was to me.

Pulse: Doctors are saying young men often make the “optimal” stem cell donor. What would you say to young men to get them to register with OneMatch or donate blood?
Will: I’d say that as young men we are in a position to make a difference to so many people and all we have to do is join the database by taking a swab of cheek cells. No needles. No urine sample. You are in a position to help so many by giving so little initially and being ready to donate if called.

Pulse: You are a role model locally and to a community of young men and aspiring athletes. How do you hope this next generation directs their efforts and energy when it comes to saving the lives of those in their community?
Will: We are all getting information faster than ever before. I’d be happy to see social media continue to show how simply and quickly we can make a difference. By educating ourselves on how and where all of us are needed, we join the team and do what has to be done to make our communities healthier. I’d like to see young men take pride in that and encourage each other to participate.

Pulse: What type of feedback have you received from people recognizing you are involved with Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Network?
Will: I received many thank you messages from many people in Nova Scotia. This is just a segment of the one message that has inspired me “Will, I just want to say thank you for your commitment to the OneMatch cause! Recently, my 13-year-old cousin from Woodbridge, Ontario got the news that through OneMatch they were able to find a bone marrow donor for him!”

Pulse: In your work with OneMatch so far, have there been any other memorable moments you’d like to share?
Will: I met an eight-year-old sickle cell patient while at a OneMatch event in Dartmouth, NS. He was very shy. Thanks to OneMatch, I saw hope in him where I used to see despair.

And just like that, Will transfers his positive outlook and hope for a healthier future to those not yet able to understand the gravity of their disease. A unique form of gratitude from a unique and generous human being.

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