MJHL hockey team joins stem cell registry to help 5-year-old with rare blood disease

The Waywayseecappo Wolverines hockey team had their cheeks swabbed and joined the stem cell registry Saturday in an effort to help a boy from Cross Lake waiting for a lifesaving stem cell transplant.

Tanner McLeod needs a blood transfusion every three weeks

Miranda McLeod and her son Tanner McLeod, 5, met players from the MJHL's Waywayseecappo Wolverines had their cheeks swabbed and joined the stem cell registry Saturday in an effort to help the boy find a lifesaving stem cell transplant. (CBC)

The Waywayseecappo Wolverines hockey team had their cheeks swabbed and joined the stem cell registry Saturday in an effort to help a boy from Cross Lake, Man. waiting for a lifesaving stem cell transplant.

Five-year-old Tanner McLeod was just six-months-old when he was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called sideroblastic anemia. It means he's unable to produce healthy red blood cells and needs a blood transfusion every few weeks when his hemoglobin levels drop too low.

Tanner's story resonated with players on the Manitoba Junior Hockey League team, says Wolverines' head coach and general manager, Taylor Harnett.

"We've all known someone who has needed help, needed blood, or needed a donor of some kind," Harnett told media gathered at the Canadian Blood Services in Winnipeg Saturday to watch as players found out their blood types and signed up with the stem cell registry.

"We've got an excellent group. We give a lot back to the community; there's never any push back from the players, they know how fortunate they are and any chance they have to give back, they're more than happy to do so."

Players filled out a survey and swabbed their cheeks as part of the registration process. (CBC)

Players filled out a survey and swabbed of their cheeks to be tested to find out whether or not they're a match for Tanner, for someone like him waiting for a donor.

The team is taking part in the month-long #GetSwabbed campaign, run by the Canadian Blood Service and Hockey Gives Blood, a non-profit formed in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, working to reduce blood shortages nationwide.

The campaign aims to encourage young men of diverse ancestry to join the stem cell registry because there is a better chance for those looking for a match to find one from their own ethnic community.

They're looking for young donors because Canadian Blood Services says young stem cells are best and are especially encouraging people between the ages of 17 to 35 to register during the campaign.

'It's important we get the word out'

Tanner is Indigenous and his mom, Miranda McLeod, has been working to encourage as many Indigenous people as possible to join the registry, including organizing a booth at last summer's Indigenous Day in Winnipeg.

It's one of the main reasons the Wolverines' wanted to help out, said Harnett.

"Hopefully more Indigenous communities and hockey players … will get the message and get out and do the same thing we did today," he said.

"It's important we get the word out."

Miranda McLeod and her son Tanner McLeod, 5, speak to media after the Waywayseecappo Wolverines joined the stem cell registry Saturday. (CBC)

The move touched Miranda, who brought Tanner along to meet the team as they registered.

"I'm very grateful for the team and coaches coming out to give patients like Tanner the chance to have a healthy, normal life," she said.

"I'd like everyone to know how very much important it is to register … because you just never know who may need it in the future."

For more information on becoming a donor, go to the Canadian Blood Service's website.