Cancer survivor celebrates second anniversary of stem cell cure

Carl Pendleton urges others to join Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry. 

July 30, 2020
Carl Pendleton survived leukemia thanks to a stem-cell transplant and nephew Waine Pendleton’s selfless caregiving.

On July 31, Carl Pendleton celebrates the second anniversary of the stem-cell transplant that saved his life.  

“I feel great in heart and mind,” he says simply. “Glad to be alive and thankful to everyone who had a hand in that.” 

In his early 50s, Carl Pendleton was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to produce healthy blood cells. Carl underwent the normal course of treatment – chemotherapy, along with blood and platelet transfusions – but the disease progressed to leukemia. Without stem cells from a matched donor, Carl had little chance of surviving. 

What are stem cells?

How do I donate stem cells?

Stem cells, specifically blood stem cells, are immature cells that can develop into any cell present in the bloodstream. Without stem cells, the body cannot make the blood cells needed for the immune system to function properly. And for stem cells to be transplanted successfully, donor and recipient must be a close genetic match. 

At any given time, hundreds of patients in Canada await matching donors. And while close relatives are often genetically similar, fewer than 25 per cent of patients find a match within their own families. Other patients turn to Canadian Blood Services Registry, which has access to a pool of 33 million donors worldwide. 

For eight months, Carl fought for his life in Jean Barber Lodge, a residence for cancer patients near Vancouver General Hospital. His nephew, Waine Pendleton, quit his job to become full-time caregiver for a month, sleeping in a cot in Carl’s room and watching his uncle receive blood transfusions and other treatments. 

“Thanks to Waine, I never gave up hope,” says Carl. “When he was a young boy, his father walked out and I stepped in to help. I took him fishing and camping a lot. I guess I was paying it forward, although I didn’t know it at the time.” 

Carl’s luck turned when Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry identified a match and a transplant restored him to health. To mark the second anniversary of the transplant, Carl will mail a letter to the anonymous donor who gave him a new lease on life.  

“It would be an honour to meet the man, shake his hand and thank him,” says Carl.  

Carl is keen to share his story as a way to inspire people to join the registry. 

“The registry really needs people of a variety of ages and culturally backgrounds,” Carl says. “I think it’s a great way to pay it forward. You just might save someone’s life one day.” 

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