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Bone marrow registry to hold second clinic for Hillary after first runs out of cheek swabs

 Hillary’s mother Kelly McKibbin says she has been amazed by the community’s support.
Hillary’s mother Kelly McKibbin says she has been amazed by the community’s support. Hundreds of people have shown up to get their cheeks swabbed to register as potential bone marrow donors in support of her daughter who has a rare blood disease. - Jean Levac

Requests to be swabbed for a bone marrow registry in order to find a match for Hillary McKibbin were so overwhelming on Monday that a second clinic has been scheduled for July 4.

About 630 people were swabbed Monday at St. Francis Xavier High School in response to ‪ #‎StartWithHillary, a campaign launched by Hillary’s family in an effort to find a stem cell match for the kindergarten student, who has been diagnosed with a rare blood disease.

Volunteers who want to be added to the bone marrow registry do it by getting a cheek swab. There were about 700 swab kits on hand Monday night, roughly double what organizers thought they would require. But would-be donors started lining up an hour before the doors opened at 3 p.m., said Hillary’s mother, Kelly McKibbin.

The family of Hillary McKibbin has gone public in their search for a stem cell match. - JPG
The family of Hillary McKibbin has gone public in their search for a stem cell match. - JPG

Less than three hours later, the swabs ran out. “We had to turn away 500 people. It was very difficult,” she said.

Next time, organizers will have 1,200 swab kits on hand, said Chris van Doorn, territory manager with Canadian Blood Services.

Matches are only found within a patient’s family about 25 per cent of the time. Quite often, families of those searching for a match go public to draw attention to the need for bone marrow donors. But the response to the call for help for Hillary has been extraordinary, he said.

“I’ve been with stem cells for about four years and that was the highest we’ve had,” said van Doorn. “I still don’t believe it.”

Aplastic anemia is a condition in which condition the body stops producing enough new blood cells. Hillary was diagnosed only a few weeks ago, but so far she has had two transfusions. There’s an 85 per cent chance a transplant from an unrelated donor will save her life, said Kelly.

The family hopes not only to find a match for Hillary, but also to increase the number of people who are registered to be donors. There are about 440,000 people on the Canadian bone marrow registry which has links around the world, offering patients who need a donor access to 32 million possible matches. However, there are about 800 people in Canada still waiting for a match and another 18,000 people elsewhere around the world.

The optimal bone marrow donor candidate is between 17 and 35 years old. There’s about a one-in-1,000 chance that any would-be donor will have a match. However, because the donor registries work through international co-operation, that match may be with someone anywhere in the world.

Stem cells are harvested either through a non-surgical blood procedure, or from bone marrow. Besides aplastic anemia, transplants are used to treat blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

The search has begun to find a possible match for Hillary on international databases. It takes between four and six weeks for newly registered donors to be put on the registry, said Kelly.

Three people  who visited the clinic on Monday night told Kelly they had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia and had a spontaneous remission — a rare occurrence that has been documented in the medical literature.

“It’s very definitely a possibility. It’s very unlikely, but we have that hope,” said Kelly.

Hillary turns six on Wednesday. The day will start with a teleconference with transplant specialists at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto in the morning. Then the family will have a unicorn-themed party to celebrate Hillary’s birthday. Even mild infectious illnesses like the common cold can make Hillary very ill, so she is being kept in relative isolation, said Kelly. “She has no white blood cells to fight anything off.”

The second clinic will be held July 4 between 3 and 6 p.m. at St. Francis Xavier High School, at 3740 Spratt Rd. in Riverside South.  Those who couldn’t be swabbed at the clinic can still request a mail-in cheek swab from Canadian Blood Services . The kits are free.

There will be a live feed via Google with Hillary at the July 4 clinic, said Kelly.

“She’s going to thank every person who comes though the door.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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