Retired RCMP Officers To Serve As Volunteer Couriers

5-20-2013 9-11-40 AM


We have received the following information from Danita Senf – National Executive Assistant Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society.



As many Veterans will remember this society was established in memory of the late RCMP member Bruce Denniston.  Details about Bruce can be found at – the Bruce Denniston story.

We are in the process of having an entirely new website designed for us, which is why our current website is not totally current.  I don’t believe our courier program is even mentioned there.

The following is an article about our courier program in Ottawa.  The volunteers there recently completed their 100th mission.

Good To The Bone: Being a bone marrow courier is intense and exhausting, but also an honour and a joy – By Kelly Egan, The Ottawa Citizen June 4, 2010

5-20-2013 8-56-30 AM

Photograph by: Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen, The Ottawa Citizen

The sealed plastic bag held a red murky liquid and Jeff Turner remembers. 

He opened the little cooler the little cooler, recalling the packing sequence he’d been taught: frozen gelpack, cardboard strip, stem cell bag, thermometer probe, crdboard, more gelpacks, digital thermometer readout.  Close lid tight.

It was Jan. 14, on the outskirts of Dusseldorf, Germany, just after noon.  The race was on.  Turner, a 50-ish father of three from Manotick, was taking part in one of the most rewarding, but nerve-wracking, volunteer programs the city has ever seen.

He is a marrow courier, one of about 45 in the area who have been trained to pick up bone marrow or blood stem cells from distant cities and deliver them to waiting recipients at the Ottawa Hospital.

The program, the first of its kind in Canada, has gone so well that it’s being tested at Prince Margaret Hospital in Toronto and may well spread to other transplant centres across the country.

In the past 18 months, members of the Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society have successfully done 39 ‘missions,’ racing back to Ottawa from England, Holland, Germany, France and across the United States.

The transplanted material has a shelf life of about 72 hours, meaning time is of the essence.  In Turner’s case, he left Dusseldorf at about 4 p.m., flew to London, then Toronto, then Ottawa.

He drove directly to the General campus, arriving near 2 a.m.  Six hours later, the transplant took place.

When Turner arrived at work, there was an e-mail, sent at 10 a.m., saying the procedure had gone well and the family was full of gratitude.   “I was walking on a cloud,” Turner said. “You have this kind of satisfied grin on your face, this feeling of joy.”

Previously, a single nurse at the General used to make all the trips. Over two decades, Sheryl McDiarmid had made roughly 400 pickups in distant cities, often in Germany.

One August alone, she made four or five trips in three weeks. Not only was it exhausting, but it was taking her away from her duties in the transplant program.

This is where Turner comes in. He is president of Ottawa’s Denniston society, named for an RCMP officer in Powell River, B.C, who succumbed to leukemia in 1989, but not before sparking a public campaign about the need to boost the donor registry.

At the time, the registry had only 1,500 potential donors, a tiny pool for trying to match unrelated patients. Now there are 260,000 registered in Canada and 13.7 million worldwide, though Canada still imports about 75 per cent of its stem-cell donations. McDiarmid and the Denniston members put their heads together: What if, she asked, volunteers made the trips?

The groundwork began, a 60-page training manual was soon developed, and within months the volunteers were ready to roll, with the first mission occurring in 2008.

Linda Hamelin is an advanced practice nurse in the blood and marrow transplant program at The Ottawa Hospital. She has co-ordinated the trips of many of the Denniston volunteers.

“It’s gone unbelievably well,” she said Thursday. “These couriers are amazingly professional. They’re extremely travel savvy and they bring a wealth of knowledge from their work background.” 

Many are retired RCMP officers, though there are also retired pilots and civic-minded citizens, like Turner.

Though there is no medical expertise required to bring the material home, Hamelin underlined the serious nature of the transfer. “You have to understand this is a life-saving product. If it doesn’t make its destination, there.

The Ottawa program did 123 marrow and blood stem-cell transplants in 2009, with 55 coming from donors.

Hamelin predicts the volunteer program will spread to other transplant centres in Canada because they’re all “bursting at the seams” and under stress to use manpower wisely.

Turner said, on the return trip, the couriers literally cannot let the cooler out of their sight. It sits at their feet on the airplane. If they go to the bathroom, the cooler goes, too.

Going through security can be trying. The cooler cannot be X-rayed, nor is it supposed to be opened.

Volunteers come equipped with letters and pre-arranged notices about their special cargo.

Turner said he had a slightly trying moment at Heathrow airport when a security official insisted on opening the cooler to peek inside, but no harm came of it.

The worrisome part, he said, is the weather. If fogged in for long periods or grounded by bizarre events like the Icelandic volcano, volunteers need to rely on their cunning and resourcefulness to make alternate arrangements.

“It’s pretty intense. You get quite anxious,” Turner said. There is, though, the knowledge that safe delivery can be a lifesaver which, for the volunteer, is its own reward.

“It’s an honour,” might be his reply to his recipient, so far anonymous, “a joy to be part of their survival.”

“It’s an honour,” might be his reply to his recipient, so far anonymous, “a joy to be part of their survival.”   Read more

Information concerning how the program operates in BCcheck out their procedures here.

The program has been in operation her since July 26th of last year, and we are looking for additional volunteers to ensure there is always one available when required.

We are holding our next Volunteer Courier class in early June 2013.  If any of your Veterans are interested in attending this training session or wish further information, they can contact me.  

Danita Senf

National Executive Assistant
Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society
PO Box 157
Powell River, BC V8A 4Z6
National Headquarters:
Unit 3 – 7045 Field Street
Powell River, BC V8A 0A1
Ph. 1-877-485-8488 (toll free)
604-485-8488 in Powell River
Fax 604-485-6241

For those patients who CAN’T WAIT for the future

For more details about this society, please check out their website – The Bruce Denniston Society