Lauren and members of Michael Wark’s medical team with him as he holds precious donor stem cells just prior to receiving them for his lifesaving transplant on October 24, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Blood Services)

Lauren and members of Michael Wark’s medical team with him as he holds precious donor stem cells just prior to receiving them for his lifesaving transplant on October 24, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Blood Services)

Blood donations needed in Red Deer: Cancer survivor asks Albertans to donate

Canadian Blood Services in Red Deer needs to fill 390 appointments by Jan 4.

These days, Mike Wark is simply grateful to be alive.

That was not always a guarantee for the 30-year-old Red Deer resident, who two years ago received a cancer diagnosis that changed his life.

His cancer journey made him an advocate for Canadian Blood Services.

As of Wednesday, Red Deer needed to fill 390 blood donor appointments by Jan. 4.

During a 2018 on a mountain biking trip, Wark was lagging behind his friends and had some difficultly catching his breath.

Routine blood work revealed he had a low white blood cell count and after a few weeks without answers, he went to the ER in Red Deer.

That’s when he first heard the word leukemia. Doctors said his enlarged spleen was an early sign of cancer.

“I remember that just hit us like a brick wall,” he recalled.

“We just thought it was a (medicine) imbalance or there was another reason why my blood counts were so low, but we certainly didn’t think it was cancer at the time.”


Notley calls on UCP to show some holiday spirit during lockdown

Red Deer RCMP investigating possible sexual assaults from 1990s

In June of 2018, he transferred to Foothills Hospital in Calgary, where he received his diagnosis. Wark had a rare form of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia that affects about one in 400,000 people and is extremely rare for people under 50.

“It had compromised between 80-90 per cent of my bone marrow and left me with no functioning immune system,” Wark said.

“The initial chemo ran for a week straight, 24/7 and after about five weeks, it was successful in reducing that leukemic count in my bone marrow, down to 0.2 per cent.”

From there, Wark and his family faced a difficult choice – continue with chemotherapy or explore a stem cell transplant. Ultimately the latter option was chosen as it gave him a better chance of survival.

They found a donor match in October 2018 and he had the transplant just weeks later. He spent three months recovering before a biopsy in January 2019 revealed that he was essentially cancer-free.

“When we heard from the doctor that they had got it all and I no longer had any detectable cancer in my body and we’d be able to come home, it was an immense relief and we just felt so much gratitude for our medical team and all the people who had supported us through it,” he remembered.

“Even strangers, those who had donated blood and stem cells, because, without them, I really wouldn’t be there.”

Wark, who moved to Red Deer in 2013 after marrying his wife Lauren, a Red Deer native, is now an advocate for Canadian Blood Services.

Blood donations played an enormous part in keeping him alive and Canadian Blood Services database helped him find his stem cell donor.

Lauren said seeing her best friend in the hospital, getting bag after bag of blood, really was a revelation.

“The culmination of that and the very unique generosity of his stem cell donor, really were life-saving. I definitely have a new appreciation for it. I also didn’t really see the full impact of it until this hit us out of the blue. I try to advocate for it whenever I can now,” she said.

While the pair are still dealing with some of the mental impacts of the ordeal, Mike is relatively healthy and trying to navigate the COVID-19 world as an immuno-compromised individual. He feels blessed to have survived and have a new lease on life.

He wouldn’t have had that chance had it not been for Canadian Blood Services and Wark is reminding Albertans, especially during the holiday season about the need for donations.

“I know our community can really use it especially, entering into the holiday season and I think a lot of people are probably hesitant more so to give this year because of the pandemic– the need still remains,” he said.

“For people like cancer patients or accident victims, it doesn’t matter that there’s a pandemic. The need still continues. So, it’s just as crucial as ever.”

Send your news tips

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An ice sculpture of a bee with a timely message was created near the Ross Street Patio. It’s party of a Downtown Business Association initiative to draw more people downtown to support local businesses. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Ice sculptures created to draw more people to downtown Red Deer

Three sculptures can be seem at various venues

(Black Press file photo)
Police seeking suspects in Bowden armed robbery

Man was beaten and robbed of his wallet

Many students and staff at St. Joseph High School are in COVID-19 quarantine. (File photo by Advocate staff)
UPDATED: St. Joseph High School reverts back to at-home learning

Majority of students under COVID-19 quarantine

Red Deer RCMP say Alexander King was last seen about a month ago. (Contributed)
Red Deer teen reported missing

RCMP ask for public’s assistance

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says it’s not appropriate for former… Continue reading

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Too many new pet owners, not enough vets make getting animal care a problem

CALGARY — Dr. Liz Ruelle says it was a difficult decision to… Continue reading

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP officer in Alberta charged with off-duty sexual assault in Edmonton

EDMONTON — Alberta’s police watchdog says an RCMP officer has been charged… Continue reading

Canada’s 29th Governor General Julie Payette looks on alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Senate chamber during her installation ceremony, in Ottawa on Monday, October 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says GG vetting process needs improvement after Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s admission Friday that he might have… Continue reading

NDP member of Parliament Lindsay Mathyssen speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP warns of long delays in equal pay for women in federal pay equity rules

OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats say new rules to close a… Continue reading

President Joe Biden waves as he departs after attending Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. Less than a week after the economic gut punch of cancelling Keystone XL, Canada is bracing for more bad news today from the White House. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Patrick Semansky
U.S. president to sign executive orders enacting stringent new Buy American regimen

WASHINGTON — Less than a week after the economic gut punch of… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital Tuesday December 15, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canadian provinces push back vaccination plans as Pfizer deliveries grind to a halt

Some Canadian health-care workers are being told they’ll have to wait longer… Continue reading

A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London on January 20, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Kirsty Wigglesworth
Shell buys European electric car charging firm ubitricity

Experts say easier access to charging facilities key to successful rollout of electric vehicles

Most Read