Toronto bar turning off taps to help find stem cell donor
Published Monday, October 7, 2013 6:48PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, October 8, 2013 12:00PM EDT
One of Toronto’s most popular bars is going dry for a few hours Tuesday night.
Grace O’Malley’s in the city’s entertainment district is turning off its beer taps to instead offer its patrons buccal swabs -- cotton-tipped applicators used to collect DNA samples.
That’s to help the bar’s general manager, Chris Taylor, find a stem cell donor to help fight his cancer.
Taylor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in May 2012.
“In a nutshell, I need a stem cell transplant to save my life,” said Taylor. “I’m on the waiting list. I’m waiting to find a donor, anywhere in the world.”
Taylor has been on the waitlist for two-and-a-half months. He’s still undergoing chemotherapy, but chemotherapy alone will not be enough.
Taylor’s colleagues decided to organize the event with OneMatch -- a program provided by Canadian Blood Services that matches volunteer stem cell donors with patients in need around the world.
“I was told about the event after it’d been decided and done, so it was a nice surprise,” said Taylor. “It was really nice to hear that everybody had gotten together to do a swab-in, it’s a big deal.”
From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., anyone attending Grace O’Malley’s will be asked to do a simple cheek swab. This will enter the person into a worldwide registry – and if they are a potential match, they will get a life-changing call to save someone’s life.
“It’s not just for me; it’s good for anybody across the world,” said Taylor.
“In our community, at Princess Margaret right now, there are people who need donors like crazy. They’re in dire need of them; people do die because they can’t find one. Happens all the time.”
The reason it is so difficult to find a stem cell donor is because many are skeptical, and scared, of the potentially risky procedure involved. However, a new technique has made the process far less invasive.
“It’s really really easy. The old way is what people are scared of. People think doctors actually have to extract bone marrow from the hip. They still do that, but rarely. The new way is not nearly as invasive,” said Taylor.
The “new way” Taylor is referring to is a simple needle procedure called a “stimulated peripheral stem cell donation” -- the donor is injected with a substance that increases stem cells circulating in the blood, and then a doctor takes blood from the donor’s arm with a needle.
“There are lots of reasons why people can’t give blood, why people can’t donate, and I would never ask somebody to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing,” said Taylor.
“But if it’s something that people are interested in, it’s something that’s very, very easy, and not invasive, and it could save someone’s life.”
The 35-year-old opened Grace O’Malley’s eight years ago after moving to Toronto from Ottawa. Grace O’Malley’s sister bar in Ottawa -- The Crazy Horse -- is holding the same event Tuesday in honour of Taylor.
After the swab-in is over, the bar will turn on the taps and celebrate the evening’s accomplishments with live entertainment, a poker tournament, and a silent auction.
“We’re really trying to get the word out. People all across Canada need donors. The more people that come down, the more lives we can save.”