​Joban Bal in front of one of his tents during his swab drive calling for people to join the stem cell donor registry, which is in desperate need. (Photo: Alex Wilks)

Surrey teen rallies stem cell donors to help with ‘desperate’ need for South Asians

Thirty-seven South Asian Canadian patients in desperate need of a stem cell transplant, says CBS

Alex Wilks, Surrey Now-Leader contributor

SURREY — Canadian Blood Services (CBS) is in desperate need of donors to add to the registry and a Surrey teen wants to help.

Eighteen-year-old Joban Bal organized a stem cell swab event to help CBS build up the donor list.

He held his event on Saturday (July 29) during the annual Miri Piri Nagar Kirtan celebration at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara.

“I saw the great need in hospitals for blood donors and especially stem cell donors,” explained Bal. “Essentially it’s rare that diseases do occur that need a stem cell donor but then that donation can make a real impact on a person’s life.”

Bal has been driven for the cause since high school where he launched Tamanawis Secondary School’s first blood donor clinic and stem cell swabbing campaigns.

“I think of it as an investment in our future. Getting the younger generation really into blood donation because we’re trying to build up that community engagement with it,” he said.

Bal is the founder of the One Blood for Life Foundation and a 2017 Winner of Surrey’s Top 25 under 25 Awards. Alongside a group of enthusiastic volunteers he hopes to recruit donors and educate people about the importance of blood and stem cell donation.

Stem cell transplantation is a procedure that replaces unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy cells. It can be used to treat illnesses such as leukemia, lymphoma and various forms of cancer.

“I don’t want to say it’s personal. I want to say it’s more community oriented,” explained Bal. “I haven’t per se ever been affected by it, but I don’t think it should take the point to where I am personally affected to see the impact it has.”

It only takes about ten minutes to register. Donors are then briefed on what to expect if they are ever called in to donate. Following that is a quick cheek swab.

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“There are over 400,000 people in our registry and most people will never ever be called to be a match because it is that hard to find a match,” said Territory Manager for CBS Sarah Jasmins.

Currently 37 South Asian Canadian patients are in desperate need of a stem cell transplants she emphasized.

“They don’t have a match,” she said. “Our registry right now is only six per cent South Asian and the important thing about a stem cell transplant is that the odds are you’re only going to find somebody within your own ancestry.”

“So what we’re doing today is actually appealing to the South Asian population and getting them to join our registry,” she adds.

Jasmins aims to build up the South Asian representation on the registry and with the help of Bal encourage people to donate blood as well.

“It goes hand-in-hand. Usually somebody that requires a stem cell transplant also requires blood transfusions,” she explained.

Bal chose to set up his red and white donor tents at the Miri Piri festival last weekend because of its unique South Asian diversity.

“It’s really important to bring awareness across cultural barriers and language barriers,” he said. “Because when we realize it there’s something that connects us all, its blood. Regardless of what race, gender, ethnicity or if your old or young.”

CBS requires donors to be between the ages of 17 to 35, in general good health and willing to help all Canadian patients.

“I feel like every multicultural event should include something of this nature,” explained Bal. “It really is very closely integrated to community involvement. If we break down barriers between education and bring it to community events where we can facilitate this, we have the people; we have the resources, let’s connect the two.”

 

​Joban Bal (far left) and some of his volunteers. (Photo: Alex Wilks)

​One of the two swab tents set up on the parade route. (Photo: Alex Wilks)