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Mixed Match documentary explores difficult search for multi-ethnic donors

Jeff Chiba Stearns is of mixed race and explores what it means to be seeking bone marrow and stem cell donors when your background is complex and the percentage of donors like you is small.

Emotional documentary about mixed-race patients seeking bone marrow, stem cell donors, a call to action

Mixed Match documentary

7 years ago
Duration 6:34
Jeff Chiba Stearns film about growing need for more mixed race donors

It means a lot to film maker Jeff Chiba Stearns to have his new documentary Mixed Match showing at the Vancouver International Film Festival, a multi-cultural city he calls home.

Stearns ancestry includes people from a variety of European countries as well as Japan and while that ethnic diversity makes for a rich history, there is a medical downside — people of mixed ancestry have a much more difficult time finding matches if they need bone marrow or stem cells.

Mixed Match explores the struggle families of mixed ancestry endure when in need of bone marrow transplants or stem cells. (Jeff Chiba Stearns)

"We have a lot of patients who have MDS [myelodysplastic syndromes] or leukaemia and they're trying to find a match and they have more complex genetics," Stearns told CBC's Our Vancouver with host Gloria Macarenko.

"And when we're talking about multi-ethnic people — they have complex DNA. And when you're talking about a compromised immune system it gets a little more tricky to find your genetic twin in the world."

Stearns says there needs to be more mixed-raced people available to donate to increase the odds of matches as he has only one person on the world-wide registry that could be a match for him if he became sick.

Stearns and his wife donated their ten-month old baby's cord blood to the stem cell bank to help others who might need them and he was compelled to use his award-winning filmmaking and animation skills to help families going through the heartbreak of a seemingly impossible search for donors.

The film shows real-life patients and volunteers hoping for the best while using cartoons and graphics to break down the science of donation.

Part of the film is told through Chiba's animation — a tool he utilized to illustrate medical procedures. (Jeff Chiba Stearns)

"It kind of makes it more entertaining to have these little animated characters explain what the procedure is for a bone marrow transplant or a stem cell transplant," said Stearns.

He sees the film as a call to action and is hoping it will wake people up to the need for donation and encourage more people to consider becoming a stem cell registrant.

According to the registry, while there are more than 380,000 stem cell registrants in Canada, only 28 per cent of them are ethnically diverse and there are hundreds of patients in Canada on the stem cell wait list.

Where to watch

The screenings for Mixed Match are Tuesday, October 4, 6:30 p.m. PT at the Rio Theatre and Thursday, Oct. 6, 1:00 p.m. at Theatre 10, Cineplex International Village.

The second screening will have information from the organization Other Half, which hopes to add more Chinese Canadians to the stem cell donor registry.

With files from CBC's Our Vancouver

To watch Jeff Chiba Stearns in conversation with Gloria Macarenko on Our Vancouver, click: Filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns explores how mixed ancestry can make it difficult to receive bone marrow transplants in Mixed Match

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