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Hundreds join Stem Cell Registry for Ottawa girl looking for donor

Hillary McKibbin, 5, is need of a bone barrow transplant and hundreds showed up Monday to see if they could help.

It was a response that completely overwhelmed Kelly McKibbin. 

Her 5-year-old daughter Hillary is in need of a bone marrow donor after being recently diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia, a rare and fatal blood disorder.

After her second daughter Alyssa wasn’t a match, Kelly and her husband Steve McKibbin turned to social media and the public. 

The #StartWithHillary campaign culminated Monday at St. Francis Xavier High School, where 700 people signed up to the national Stem Cell Registry, with the help of Canadian Blood Services, an unprecedented number that meant another 700 were an unable to register. 

While anticipating a good turnout, Kelly McKibbin was blown away by the response. 

"But we did not imagine anything like this at all,” she said, fighting back tears. 

“This is just beyond expectation and really good for the city, good for our daughter, the national registry and the global registry,” she added. 

“It’s life changing for us.”

700 people signed up for the stem cell registry over the course of the four hours, which was well above the usual 50 people a similar event usually brings in, but McKibbon was sad about the 700 others who were sent home because kits had run out. 

Another session is expected to be held next week. 

Both parents welcomed potential donors at the front doors of the school and guided them where they needed to go. 

Hillary’s sister, Alyssa McKibbin, also handed out handmade notes to volunteers to thank them. 

While donors for Hillary needed to be males between 17 and 35-years-old, a number of women also came to donate. 

McKibbin said the number of registrants on Monday increases the chance of finding donor so the family remains hopeful, but added “it’s not just for Hillary.”

"We sent out a cry for help and tried to educate as much as we could," she said. “I feel like we succeeded in making people aware of this issue and that in turn changes the survival rate for so many."

On the public response, McKibbin believes it sends a message that Ottawans care about their community. 

“It says people want the opportunity to do something bigger than themselves, they just need to be give a chance,” she said. 

A secondary motive, according to McKibbin, was in their own education, they learned non-white Canadians make up less than one per cent of the national registry, so she hopes this can change that and attract diverse donors. 

“As Hillary says, that’s not Canadian."

Her mother said Hillary was at home but had a “good day” Monday, while her teacher at St. Leonard’s, Nicole Brooking, has been making sure she video chats with classmates. 

“They really miss her,” Brooking said, adding it’s good for both sides. 

“They can see that she’s okay...and for Hillary to see her friends and know they’re there too because she can’t come visit with them.” 

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