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NV family puts out plea for marrow donor

No match for mom in database of millions

That's the rallying cry a North Vancouver father has taught his two sons, 2 and 5, to encourage the "good cells" to vanquish the "bad cells" that have attacked their mom.

The mantra is Harley Harris's way of showing defiance to the cancer that has raced through his wife's body in the space of a few weeks. His wife, Erica, is fighting to hold off the disease until a bone marrow donor can be found, but with a database of millions of potential matches exhausted and the illness showing no signs of abating, time may be running out.

Now, Harris is turning to the public in the hope that a donor can be found.

"You, anyone, can be Erica's match. It's so important . . . you're saving a life," he said. "Anyone has the opportunity to save a life by getting on this registry as quickly as possible."

Erica Harris, a chiropractor and Lynn Valley resident, was diagnosed on June 6 with an aggressive form of cancer called acute mylogenous leukemia.

The 35-year-old was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital the next day to start chemotherapy. At first the treatment appeared to be working, with the leukemic cells, which had been at 26 per cent when she was first admitted, dropping to 10 per cent by the end of the first round. But just before the Canada Day long weekend, the family got more bad news.

"The bad leukemic cells were back and indeed much higher than they had been when we started," said Harley.

The bad cells were now at 60 to 70 per cent.

Harris' only option now is to go through a "salvage" round of chemotherapy paired with a bone marrow transplant.

Her brother has been tested, but is not a match. So far, a search of 19 million people on an international bone marrow database has also failed to find compatible donor.

Friends of the Harris family organized a registry drive at the Lynn Valley Concert Series on July 6, and hope to hold more in the future, but so far no match has turned up.

Olga Pazukha with Canadian Blood Services explained that finding a bone marrow match is much more complicated than matching blood types.

"Matches between patients and donors are genetic," said Pazukha. "It's not like a blood type where you have your four different blood types and everyone has one of (them). Everybody's genetic information is so unique and complicated that finding someone who is very similar . . . is quite difficult."

There are currently more than 900 patients in Canada waiting for a match, said Pazukha.

Donors would be committing to give stem cells, which can be found in blood or in bone marrow, explained Pazukha.

The process for extracting from either location is relatively painless: 80 per cent of the time it's much like a blood donation; and in the remainder of cases, it involves taking a sample from the hip in a procedure that generally sees the patient up and running again within the day.

The best donors are young men between the ages of 17 and 35, from all ethnic groups, she added.

Harris is holding out hope that a match can be found in time for Erica.

"Please help bring Erica home, so she can put her kids to bed at night and get them up in the morning."

To learn more, or to become a donor, visit Canadian Blood Services' OneMatch program at