Village Brewery's stem cell swab-a-thon born of 40-year friendship

Dozens of Calgarians dropped by a local brewery Saturday to have a beer and help save a life.

Founder's elementary school friend had no match in global stem cell database

Village Brewery co-founder Jim Button, left, stands behind the bar at a stem cell and bone marrow swab-a-thon aimed at getting young men to register with Canada's donor database. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Dozens of Calgarians dropped by a local brewery Saturday to have a beer and help save a life.

Village Brewery held a swab-a-thon to get people to register with Canada's OneMatch stem cell donor database. The idea was born out of a 40-year friendship and an up-close view of the difficulties patients in finding a stem cell or bone marrow match.

"Today, we're trying to help a pal out," said brewery co-owner, Jim Button.

His friend from elementary school, Al Carpenter was diagnosed with lukemia in December and needed to find a donor.

To complicate things, he has a rare strain of DNA and none of the 22 million people currently on the world wide stem-cell database were a match.

"They desperately need people 18-35, males and I own a brewery," said Button. "It seemed like a natural fit to draw people out from that demographic, I had the tool to do it."

The event was planned months ago but just a couple weeks ago, someone with a match to Carpenter joined the registry.

He had his-life saving transplant Friday night and the event became about collecting more names — all potential donors who could save a life.

"Sometimes people can't emotionalize with the need unless they see it's a real person behind that," said Cassandra Deluca with Canadian Blood Services. "We leverage those patient stories in order to mobilize the community."

Friends' effort a source of energy for Carpenter

Carpenter grew up in Calgary with his brother, Steve, and Button but now lives in Ottawa.

The efforts his friends, family and perfect strangers undertook on his behalf isn't lost on Carpenter and his friends say seeing his appreciation inspires them to keep working.

"He's in tears every time this kind of stuff is going on," said Steve Carpenter. "I think it's a great source of energy for him to get through what he's going through."

Matt Chomistek was one of the perfect strangers who donated his time, and a cheek swab, at Saturday's event.

He says it was worthwhile for him to come out and add his name to the registry.

"It's pretty straight forward to come here and give a hand and if you can help save a life for the five minutes it takes here, then it's an easy thing to do," he said.

Those good deeds didn't go unrewarded though —everyone who signed up was given a free brewery tour and a cold beer.

"We knew that beer could do stuff like this today," said Button. "This is the perfect example of beer doing good."