A young Maple Ridge woman is pleading people to register as stem cell donors while she waits for a suitable match for her boyfriend.
Heather Lacasse, 23, who spoke to The News this week, after sharing her quest for help on Facebook.
Her boyfriend Jacob Gowler, also 23, has aplastic anemia. Aplastic anemia is an auto-immune disease in which the body fails to produce white and red blood cells and platelets in a sufficient number. Blood cells are produced in bone marrow by stem cells.
Lacasse said her boyfriend first learned he had the condition after getting his blood tested a few years ago.
“He could have been living with it for a couple of years before his system was crashing,” she said.
Some of the symptoms, she added, are fatigue, headaches, and he has a suppressed immune system.
“So, like, if he went out and even got a cold, it would kill him.”
Gowler went through two rounds of immuno-suppressive therapy (ATG treatment), which has not taken. A third round is not an option, she wrote on Facebook.
“Usually, if it was going to work, it would have worked about six months in,” she said.
When Lacasse first met Gowler he was about halfway through his first ATG treatment.
“They thought it was going to work. When I met him he was working out, he was fit, he was happy, he was really enthusiastic and optimistic. He told me he had this condition, but he was going through treatment and he would be fine. He obviously had big plans for the future,” she said.
“When I saw him go through the second treatment, that’s when I saw the mental aspect of it. He was told he can’t workout, he can’t do sports, he can’t go hang out with a bunch of people… You see the collapse of the mental health of a young happy go-lucky guy. That was the hardest part.”
Gowler requires a bone marrow transplant – which, if successful, could result in a wave of cells being reproduced.
“Right now, what we have is a 50 per cent sibling match and a nine out of 10 match from a stranger. But nine out of 10 isn’t very good. He needs a 95 per cent or higher,” Lacasse said. “If he goes ahead with a bone marrow transplant, with the options he has, he’s got a 70-30 chance. He’s got a 30 per cent chance of dying on the table and 70 per cent chance of pulling through surgery.”
Lacasse described getting tested to become a donor as a painless, simple procedure that can be done at home. The first step to register as a potential stem cell donor is to do so on the blood.ca website, she said.
“The registry will send you a stem cell testing kit, it’s basically a mouth swab, (and) you send it back,” she said. “The problem is that you can’t just register to see if you’re eligible to him. You go into a worldwide system, there’s no way around that, unfortunately.”
According to Canada Blood Services, its transplant centre reviews the donor application and suitable donors are requested to make a stem cell donation to the stem cell and marrow registry.
Lacasse said they only have about a year to find a match, “if we don’t, the older he gets the less likely it is to work.”
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