Cancer-stricken Quebec teen with Huron roots struggles to find stem cell donor

On June 29, Rosalie Lirette Gilbert's life was turned upside down — that's the day the 19-year-old Quebec City resident was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Rosalie Lirette Gilbert was told in June she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Rosalie Lirette Gilbert, 19, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia earlier this summer. (Hélisa Lirette Gilbert/Facebook)

On June 29, Rosalie Lirette Gilbert's life was turned upside down.

That's the day the 19-year-old Quebec City resident was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — the same illness for which Montrealer Matthew Schreindorfer underwent a near-million-dollar experimental treatment in New York.

However, Rosalie's situation was further complicated by the rarity of her genetic mix. She was told her Huron and Irish roots made it a challenge to find a compatible stem cell donor.

There wasn't a single match in Héma Québec's stem cell and bone marrow donor bank, and Lirette's 24-year-old sister, Hélisa Lirette Gilbert, was told she wasn't a match either. And so Hélisa decided to reach out on behalf of her sister by issuing a public appeal for aboriginal donors on Facebook

Thousands of people have now seen and shared the message.  

After a number of chemotherapy treatments, Rosalie is now in remission. However, without a stem cell transplant, there is a good chance her cancer will come back.

Susie Joron, manager of the donor bank at Héma Québec, said the number of registrations on the donor list has increased thanks to Rosalie and her sister. 

"It is a good thing and we encourage people to register," she said. "We just want to make sure these donors are really committed."

Helisa said she's happy her message is having an impact. She hopes this can help find a donor for her sister — and for other people of mixed origin.  


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