Friends of an Ottawa man diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia five months ago are holding a 'Swab-a-Thon' at a restaurant next weekend to gather potential stem cell matches for a national database.

Al Carpenter, 49, was the picture of health in December when he felt some pain in his hips. At first he and his doctor thought it was a sports injury, but a week later he had to be admitted to oncology ward of the Ottawa Hospital, where he was diagnosed.

Stephen Beckta and Al Carpenter

Stephen Beckta, left, is organizing a swab-a-thon to attract more donors to Canada's stem-cell database and in the faint hope it might provide a match for his friend Al Carpenter, right. (CBC)

"From start to finish it felt like it happened very quickly, from being very healthy to very sick," said Carpenter.

Carpenter has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy to keep the cancer in check, but said ultimately he'll need a stem-cell transplant.

He has not found a match among the 22-million-strong worldwide database of registered donors.

The news came as a shock to Carpenter, a father of two, as well as his family and his friends, including Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta.

Beckta said after the initial shock, many of Carpenter's friends wanted to help in whatever way possible.

His solution was a "Swab-a-Thon' at his restaurant Gezellig at Churchill and Richmond in Westboro.

Canada Blood Services staff will be on hand to help swab stem-cell samples from the cheeks of willing patrons from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 29.

Beckta says only donors between the ages of 17 and 35 will be considered, because they are young and strong enough to donate should their stem-cells be a match for a transfusion.

While most stem-cell donors who are matches donate only blood, about 1 in 5 may be called upon to provide a bone marrow transfusion, says Beckta.

He concedes the chance of finding a donor for his friend is small, but says that's not the point.

"Without hope you can't do anything," said Beckta.

"That's as much the purpose of this event as finding a match, to allow the friends and family of Al to have hope and to be able to do something to influence the outcome," he said.

Carpenter is happy that what has been a difficult experience for him could help others in need of stem-cell donations.

"I always hope that something would pop up for me, of course, that would be a Godsend," said Carpenter. "But even if that doesn't happen I think a lot of positive things can come out of the swab event."