Vancouver surgeon and UBC professor Ronald Lett is appealing to the public for help in finding a bone marrow transplant for his wife Elizabeth Nega, who has an aggressive form of leukemia.
Nega, better known as Elsa, discovered that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February and urgently needs a bone marrow transplant. However, the Ethiopian Canadian wife and mother of two has been unable to find a match because of the low number of African donors.
Ronald and Elsa are now reaching out to people of African descent to register as bone marrow donors. They’ve started a website, match4elsa.com, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts, to find Elsa and other African-Canadians life saving transplants.
“I love to live. I want to be with my kids. I want to smile again. I want to play with them again. If you save my life, you will save my whole family,” said Elsa Nega in her video appeal for a donor.
Lett is the founder and international director of the charity, Canadian Network for International Surgery(CNIS). He met Elsa in Ethiopia while he was there training local doctors to perform essential surgeries.
After dedicating his life to helping others, Lett says being unable to help his wife in her time of need has been difficult.
“I helplessly watch as the love of my life suffers terribly, has devastating complications from her treatment but has no promise of a cure,” said Lett.
“Transplant, which only works half the time, is our only hope and all the news concerning a match for Elsa has been bad too.”
Elizabeth Nega and Ronald Lett and family Elizabeth Nega, Ronald Lett and their two children are running out of time to find Elsa a bone marrow donor. (Helen Goddard)
Lack of donor diversity
Since discovering that she had leukemia, Elsa has been put through several rounds of chemotherapy, but after failing to go into remission, obtaining stem cells from a bone marrow transplant has become her only hope of recovery.
Her brother and sister in Ethiopia were her best chance, but neither were a match.
The larger issue in finding a donor for Elsa is the lack of diversity in the donor registry.
Of the 405,000 Canadians on the stem cell registry, only 800 have an African background, and none are a match for Elsa, according to Chris vanDoom with the One Match Program.
Even among the 29 million people on the international registry, no match has been found.
Lett and Elsa’s children, Lana, 8, and Lawrence, 6, have contributed to the effort.
They’re in a video reading a letter appealing to Ethiopians around the world, including Canadian-Ethiopian R & B singer The Weeknd, asking for help to save their mom.
In the meantime, Elsa’s health is declining, and she’s hoping for a miracle, even if it’s not for her.
“If they save somebody, that’s like a lottery or a big blessing, you know. It’s a big chance to get somebody to match to you and save your life. You know many people can’t do this.” said Nega.
People interested in registering to be a bone marrow donor can register at blood.ca, must be between 17 and 35 years old and in good health.
The test involves a cheek swab at the nearest clinic or a kit can be mailed out.