Tearjerking moment father, 43, and his family meet the stranger who saved his life by donating her stem cells
- James O’Donnell, 43, was diagnosed with life-threatening aplastic anemia
- Only medical option left to him was a bone marrow transplant – but this requires a matching donor
- Admin worker Leah McDougall, 29, meanwhile signed herself up for donor list
- Doctors found the pair to be a ’10 out of 10′ match and could complete transplant
- They finally had a tearful meeting at a gala for blood cancer charity DKMS
This is the beautiful moment a father finally met the complete stranger who saved his life.
James O’Donnell, 43, from Manchester, was left in floods of tears when he and his family were joined by Leah McDougall onstage at a gala for blood cancer charity DKMS.
It was Leah’s bone marrow donation two years before that saved James from a life-threatening condition.
Fighting back tears in front of a live audience, James described Leah as ‘a real-life superhero’ for making the decision to become a donor.
‘Superheroes save lives and that’s what you’ve done. With people like you and a charity like DKMS we can get more people to do it (donate), we can save a lot more lives and kids like mine have their dads see them grow up.’
Leah, equally a tearful as James and his family, replied ‘It’s amazing to help you under such unfortunate circumstances,’ before receiving cheers from the audience.
James O’Donnell, 43, fights back tears as his life-saving donor Leah McDougall hugs his wife during a gala event for the blood cancer charity DKMS
But in 2016, time was running out for James, after the usually healthy father of one was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder similar to leukaemia where he bone marrow was not producing enough white blood cells.
Usual treatments weren’t working for him, and instead he had to undergo a weekly blood transfusion in his battle against multiple infections.
He was left terrified by the thought of not being able to see his son Harrison, now eight, grow up.
In 2016, time was running out for James, after the usually healthy father of one was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder similar to leukaemia where he bone marrow was not producing enough white blood cells
With few options left, James needed to find a donor for a bone marrow transplant to help rebuild his immune system.
He suffered further disappointing news when tests on his three siblings revealed none were a match, so the waiting game to find a suitable donor began.
But luckily for him, hope was only on the other side of the M62 – in the form of Liverpool Council admin worker Leah McDougall.
Leah, a 29-year-old mum from Bootle, had recently made the decision to register herself as a potential stem cell donor, organised by blood cancer charity DKMS.
‘We were so lucky to find a donor only about 25 miles away. Some people never find one and we had one on our doorstep,’ he said
On a March day in 2017, James got a call to say: ‘We have got a perfect match, a 10 out of 10.’
The operation was a success and after four weeks doctors told James the new bone marrow cells were taking effect.
He told the ECHO: ‘We were so lucky to find a donor only about 25 miles away. Some people never find one and we had one on our doorstep.’
‘It was the second best moment of my life after my son being born.
Describing the moment she met James and his family at the DKMS Gala, she said: ‘We were both speechless. When I walked on stage we were just hugging each other for ages.
‘It is weird, we felt like we had known each other for years, I felt like I had known him my whole life.’
WHAT IS APLASTIC ANAEMIA?
Aplastic anaemia is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition in which the bone marrow and stem cells do not produce enough blood cells.
The condition causes a drop in levels of red and white blood cells and platelets.
Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body, so a lack of them can starve muscles of oxygen, making people weaker and tired.
White blood cells are crucial for the immune system to function, and platelets are what helps the blood to clot when someone is injured.
Aplastic anaemia usually needs to be treated with a bone marrow transplant to kick-start the body into producing enough blood cells.
The condition can be inherited but can also develop on its own at any time.
In some cases, aplastic anaemia can develop into leukaemia, and it can lead to life-threatening heart failure.
It is a rare disease thought to affect around one in 500,000 people and is more common in children and older people.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
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