Swab Saves Lives

By Kevin Masterman, Toronto Police Service Published: 9:56 a.m. April 9, 2014

Constable Chris Sirbos wants to ensure that getting a stem-cell or bone-marrow donation is a given, not akin to winning the lottery.

A girl and a man sit on a bench in an atrium
Samantha Sirbos, 7, and her father, Chris

His daughter, seven-year-old Samantha, won that lottery, being matched with a bone-marrow donor through the  OneMatch Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Network. A swab clinic is being held at the Scarborough Town Centre on Thursday, April 10, to ensure more patients have donors.

“That match happened because someone took time out of their day to go get swabbed, that's all it is, it's a Q-tip in the mouth… It could take longer to wait for your coffee.”

Sirbos and his wife, Maria, and four-year-old daughter, Ava, have been at Sammy’s side since her leukemia relapsed in Octobe, 2013.  Chris was at a loss to explain the feeling of hearing there was a match for his daughter.

“When we saw the doctor, he was walking down the hall with a skip in his step,” said Sirbos, who is always nervous or even nauseous at the sight of a physician – worried that it might be  bad news. “When the doctor said ‘we have a 10-out-of-10 match for your daughter’ – I want another family to experience that – it’s hard to explain.”

Everything bubbled to the surface, the  13 Division officer said.

“Every single emotion you’ve had built up inside just comes out. I don’t show my emotions, I try to keep it in check. After talking to my wife, I had to take a walk down the hallway. I cried a little bit, I laughed, I was angry – I don’t even know why I was angry. Guilty, too… knowing how many kids here need a match.

His family now wants to build awareness of OneMatch to Canadians.

“I want to be part of them searching for their son or daughter’s bone marrow,” Sirbos said. “There is no other option but a bone-marrow match – there is no plan B.”

A girl sitting on a bench holding an infant
Samantha Sirbos holding 11-month-old Luke Ninkovic who is awaiting a stem cell transplant

His daughter, who first battled leukemia at age 3, and was diagnosed less than a year away from the five-year remission date that signals “cured”, needs that match to survive. The leukemia attacked her bone marrow, which produces normal blood. Stem cells are parent cells found in bone marrow.

She is now waiting for her transplant, which will be followed by radiation, chemotherapy and intensive care at the Hospital for Sick Children.

“She has been well taken care of here,” he said, of the nurses, doctors and staff who swirl around the floor checking on patients and their families.

This time around has been especially hard as Samantha can now grapple with the enormity of the situation.

“She says her blood is a little yucky, and knows now, with chemo, her blood is getting better and we’re going to replace it with someone else’s blood,” he said. “She can rhyme off 15 different chemos, she sounds like a doctor.” She also is old enough to express her emotions.

"Sometimes she’ll say ‘Mommy, Daddy, I’m sad,’” said Sirbos.

He credits family, friends and colleagues with helping his family get through their latest battle, raising awareness of Sammy’s fight and money for his family to rent a condo nearby so they could stay with her during treatment while taking a leave of absence from work.

“I’m usually the one helping people, not taking help – I can’t thank everyone enough,” Sirbos said, of the work putting together swab clinics and promoting Samantha’s plight. “My wife wants to go around and hug everyone.

"I couldn't believe how friends, family, colleagues jumped into help and it spread like wildfire... My phone kept ringing, the texts kept coming in offering help… I thought I wouldn't need anything, I could do it myself but I ended up calling people  at 1 a.m. I said need something for my daughter. A friend was here in 10 minutes.”

Sirbos looks forward to leaving the hospital that has been the place where his family has wept, laughed and marked many milestones.

Ava was only six months old when Sammy got diagnosed.

“She was breast-fed here, she learned to walk here,” he said. “It’s like a home away from home.”

Beyond thanking everyone who aided them, they have plans once Sammy is given clearance to leave the hospital.

“As soon as we get out of here we will take the kids on a vacation,” Sirbos said. “All they want is to go to a beach. All Sammy wants to do is sit in sand and dig a hole… They just want to play.”

The Scarborough Town Centre OneMatch clinic is being held in the lower level Sears Court from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 10.

Visit  OneMatch.ca for more information on how to join the network.

A girl stands in a hallway holding an IV stand
Samantha Sirbos, 7, at the Hospital for Sick Children
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