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‘It only took a couple of minutes’: Students swab cheeks to become potential stem cell donors

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Several organizations have partnered with Canadian Blood Services to find potential stem cell donors at both Nipissing University and Canadore College.

Booths were set up at both schools on Wednesday where students and members of public aged 17-35 to swab their cheeks to get into the national database for a potential life-saving stem cell donations.

Trinity Tuulos told CTV News it only took about 10 minutes to do the swab and register to be a potential stem cell donor. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)From registering with Canadian Blood Services to swabbing her cheeks, it only took 10 minutes for student Trinity Tuulos to become a potential stem cell donor.

"It only took a couple of minutes,” she said chuckling.

“It's a really simple, easy task. It doesn't take very long and it could really help someone in need."

Tuulos and several other students registered to be swabbed - including Curtis Drodge.

"Taking one small step can go leaps and bounds to help," he said after swabbing.

The swab kit contains four swabs to collect DNA samples from all four corners (both the upper and lower sides) of your mouth. The kits are then sent to a lab to be tested to see if the person swabbing is a match for someone in desperate need of a stem cell transplant.

"Your odds in being selected to be a match are one in 700. So it's relatively low,” said Brandon Peacock, a Canadian Blood Services community development manger for stem cells Brandon Peacock.

“That’s why when more people swab, the better.”

There are several kinds of blood cancer and approximately 80 types of other medical conditions that can be treated with stem cells. Even when a patient finds a match, half of them turn out to be unavailable to donate.

"If you know if you're selected, there's an opportunity you're a life-saver," said Peacock.

Colin Vickers is a blood cancer survivor and knows all too well the importance of these clinics.

Vickers had two kinds of blood cancer which turned into acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes a large number of abnormal blood cells. Having received a transplant in October 2021, he's now cancer free.

Colin Vickers received a stem cell transplant in October 2021 while battling acute myeloid leukemia. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)“I was treated at HSN (Health Sciences North) successfully and qualified for a stem cell transplant which effectively replaces your wonky blood as I call it," he said.

Currently, there are over 900 Canadian patients waiting for a match. A group of Nipissing University nursing students led the charge to organize it in partnership with Canadore and the Rotary Club of Nipissing.

"My grandfather died of Hodgkin's lymphoma. I really joined the stem cell swab event through Colin and he introduced me to his story and it made me want to help,” said Hayden Lloyd, a Nipissing University nursing student.

There were two other clinics; one Wednesday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Canadore Residence and the other Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Canadore Commerce Court Campus, outside of the cafeteria.

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