Allison Riley remembers the summer of 2010, waiting for her perfect match. In her heart, she knew a matching stem cell donor was out there, but she was running out of time.

She spent many days anxiously waiting for that important call — the one that could mean a beginning of the end to her battle with cancer. On Aug. 16, the phone finally rang.

Allison was born with congenital neutropenia, a rare blood disorder. People with the condition have a deficiency of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that helps to fight infection. In Allison’s case, her bone marrow didn’t produce any neutrophils.

“I lived a sheltered life,” Allison says. “Even a hangnail could send me to the emergency room with an infection.”

To help with her condition, from the age of two, Allison took an injectable drug. But the drug had one major drawback — prolonged use could lead to leukemia, a matter on which some doctors agree and others refute. Nonetheless, Allison was monitored monthly with bone marrow testing.

In May 2010, doctors found something wrong in her test results. Allison had acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Her only hope for survival was a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor.

In Canada, there are currently 1,000 patients of all ethnic backgrounds waiting for a stem cell match. Not only does Canadian Blood Services need more ethnically diverse registrants for its One-Match Stem Cell and Marrow Network to help patients in need, it needs young men. Young men between the ages of 17 to 35 are considered “optimal donors” because their stem cells provide a better initial graft upon transplant. This offers the patient a better start at creating new blood stem cells.

“Thanks to the number of new donors joining OneMatch, every day there is more hope to find a match,” says Allison, who received her transplant on Oct. 14, 2010 at the age of 19. She says that was the day she was given her second birthday.

Could you be the perfect match?
To register to become a stem cell donor and potentially save a life like Allison’s, visit

Photography by Trina Koster