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Marrow donor sought from Asian, Filipino communities

Nine-year-old girl from Vancouver Island fighting leukemia



Like any nine-year-old Lourdess Sumners loves to play, read, and draw.

But those cherished activities are a memory for now as she battles for her life against the monster: cancer.

Her best chance is a bone-marrow transplant but the donor must be found in the next four months if Lourdess is to live.

“It just takes one person,” said dad Orlando, struggling to stay strong for his oldest daughter, wife Ping, and seven-year-old Georgette.

“She is the most wonderful bright, intelligent person and she deserves a chance. She is kind and she touches everyone who knows her.”

But the cancer is not the only battle the family has to face for they must also find a donor from the Asian or Filipino communities, as none of Lourdess’s family is a match.

Right now less than 3 per cent of all registered bone marrow donors are of South Asian decent. Earlier this month Canadian Blood Services launched a pilot project in B.C. which would allow people to use cheek swabs kits to register as a bone marrow donor. (go to ). It’s hoped the move will help increase the number of people who register as donors from diverse ethnic groups.

The Sumners are appealing to Whistler residents of South Asian or Filipino decent to register as soon as possible in case one of them could save the life of their little girl.

Monsignor Jerry Desmond of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church is planning on telling the congregation about Lourdess’s condition as well.

“I’ll do what I can do,” he said adding that he is considering organizing a group “swabbing” with test kits.

“Time is of the essence here, I’m sure.”

Lourdess was first diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) in 2006. She received a very aggressive cocktail of chemotherapy and after several months she was declared to be in remission.

But a few weeks ago blood tests showed that the aggressive cancer had returned.

“It was devastating,” said Sumners.

“She obviously didn’t want to go through it all again, lose her hair, and everything. But she trusts us and she has a really good attitude so we are back here now.”

The family has closed down its business in Duncan, taken out a second mortgage on their home and moved to Vancouver to be together as Lourdess fights for her life.

“She is rambunctious and resilient,” said oncologist Dr John Wu, who is treating Lourdess at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

“She is a very nice little girl. It was such a devastation that they went through the first time and having it come back a year later is horrendous. But they are dealing with this the best that they can.

“(A bone-marrow transplant)… would be her best chance.”

The family is not alone in their fight. The B.C.-based Lifeline Society, which was founded to increase the number of Asian donors in Canada's national Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry, is planning to include Lourdess’s plight in its next newsletter.

“What we can do is call the Filipino community here, and the Filipino newspapers to help,” said Vicky Go, a director of Lifeline Society.

“It is an on-going challenge to get donors from this group.”

Doctors are also looking internationally in public umbilical cord blood banks for the cells that could save Lourdess’s life.

It’s likely that if Canada had a large public blood bank children like Lourdess would have a much better chance of survival.

A discussion about such a blood bank is underway, said Children’s Hospital oncologist Dr. Kirk Schultz.

“But we really do need the government to move on this,” he said.