Volleyball player organizes stem cell drive

Krista Robinson/ Ryersonian Staff

(Krista Robinson/Ryersonian Staff)

In volleyball, the setter is in charge of the play, deciding who gets the ball and when. But Erica Naccarato isn’t just a setter on the court.

The fourth-year varsity athlete has been organizing blood drives at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in her modest spare time since freshman year. This past Thursday, working with Ryerson labour rights advocate Winnie Ng, she combined the traditional “What’s your type?” event, with OneMatch, the Canadian Blood Services’ stem cell registry.

Ng, Ryerson’s CAW-Sam Gindin Chair of Social Justice and Democracy, recently discovered that her best friend’s sister, a bright 29-year-old who just completed her chartered accountant degree, was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Melissa Yoke Seen Seow is currently undergoing chemotherapy in Toronto.

“It was a shock to the whole family,” said Ng.

In hopes of finding a stem cell match for Seow, Ng and Naccarato teamed up to create the joint event, this time at the Ted Rogers School of Business Management. The seventh floor saw students swabbing their inner cheeks and adding their names to the worldwide stem cell registry.

Donors are required to be between the ages of 17-35. Ineligible stem cell participants were encouraged to book an appointment to donate blood at the College and Bay clinic.

At 16, Naccarato was coerced into donating blood to overcome her fear of needles — and it worked. Now she is a regular volunteer and donor with Canadian Blood Services.

“It’s always been a part of my family,” she said. “My dad’s a longtime donor and I just fell in love with the atmosphere.”

As a Ryerson Ram, the psychology major is encouraged to organize events like these.

“Athletics makes it really easy to bring in initiatives that could help the community.”

In recent history, stem cell research has grown exponentially. It differs from blood donation in that finding a match is much rarer, and there are surgical as well as non-surgical methods of obtaining cells. The cells can be used to treat many life-threatening conditions, most commonly leukemia and heart disease.

Getting the stem cells can be a difficult process. The most invasive procedure requires the extraction of cells from bone marrow tissue found in hip bones. Many assume that the cells are taken from the spinal cord, however this is a myth. The least invasive is non-surgical, and requires a same-day procedure akin to donating blood.

Fewer than 25 per cent of patients in need of stem cell transplants are able to find a match within their own families, leaving the afflicted in search of a stranger’s matching tissue.

“It’s a bit of a long shot, but my hope is that it brings more awareness,” said Ng before the event.

A more populated registry would give those in need a better shot at finding a match.

“That’s the beauty of it; at the end of the day you take away the skin colour, the language, the cultures – but the blood is still the same,” said Ng. “It’s the magic of generosity and of spirit that allows you to potentially give someone back their life. To me, that’s the essence of how we build communities.”

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