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Héma-Québec appeals for more black stem cell donors

05/10/2013 09:48 EDT | Updated 07/10/2013 05:12 EDT
Héma-Québec is working with members of Montreal's black community to increase the number of blood and stem cell donors.

Québéc's black community is chronically underrepresented in blood banks and on the bone marrow transplant registry, making treatment more challenging for black patients.

"A lot of times people suffer from sickle cell anemia, and there are not enough donors from our ethnicity that give, so I think it's just a good way of helping out other people," said Mitchum Burnett, who gave blood for the fifth time on Friday.

He discovered all it takes is a cheek swab to register as a stem cell donor.

Yet of more than 39,000 Quebecers registered as stem cell donors, only 89 are black Quebecers.

Tamu Townsend got involved in drives like the one held on Friday after her brother Emru was diagnosed with leukemia. He died after a long-sought transplant didn't work.

"One thing I realized was drives for blood and for stem cells increase a lot of awareness," Townsend said. "In fact, I'm registered as a stem cell donor because of my brother's illness."

Naderge Ceneston, a nurse with Héma-Québec who is also black, said people in the black community need to be educated, to know how critical is to become blood and stem cell donors.

"We still have work to do to let them know that when they come to give blood, it's to give for their community first," Ceneston said.

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