Tearful dad meets woman who saved his life and gave him future with his son – Liverpool Echo

By daniellenierenberg

This is the poignant moment a dad and his young family broke down as they met the woman who saved his life.

James O'Donnell, 43, was running out of options after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder similar to leukaemia, in 2016.

Usual treatments were failing and James was undergoing a blood transfusion every week while battling constant infections.

James, from Burnage in Manchester, feared his luck was out and despaired at the pain his death could cause his eight-year-old son Harrison.

But in a stunning stroke of fortune, his saviour was only the other side of the M62; Liverpool Council admin worker Leah McDougall.

The 29-year-old mum, from Bootle , had taken the time to sign up to the register of potential stem cell donors on her lunch break at a pop-up stall, organised by blood cancer charity DKMS, the previous year.

James, who despite his Manc heritage is an avid Liverpool FC fan, told staff at he charity that he would be up for meeting his donor, who could have been anyone from a number of European countries using the register.

James, along with his wife Andrea and young Harrison, got the chance to meet Leah for the first time at a DKMS charity gala in London on Wednesday last week (November 6).

James, who says he finally feels like himself after a long period of illness, told the ECHO: "I was just getting chest infections and water infections all the time.

"I am quite a healthy person, and I was in good shape and I knew I should not be getting ill all the time."

He said after a few weeks of tests his was invited to take a bone marrow biopsy and was told the devastating news on his 40th birthday.

The disease meant James's bone marrow was not producing enough white blood cells, but doctors told him a treatment called anti-thymocite globulin (ATG) had "75% chance" of success.

However when that failed, fear and doubt began to creep in for James.

He said: "We are always saying I would get through this, we were thinking I would get better. But I started to think it's not happening, it's not going to be for me, this.

"I thought, I have been good in life, I need some luck. We were having a really hard time. My son was four or five then, and it was hard for him having a dad going from playing football with him to being in hospital."

Eventually doctors revealed the only option was for James to have a bone marrow transplant.

The O'Donnells went through further disappointment when tests on his three siblings revealed none were a match, so the waiting game to find a suitable donor began.

But on a March day in 2017, he 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 said: "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."

The powerful emotion of meeting Leah last week is summed up by James: "It was the second best moment of my life after my son being born.

"What she has done means that I can see my son growing up and that he has a father."

Leah did not hesitate to agree to help a total stranger when she was asked by DKMS.

Describing the moment she met James and his family, she told the ECHO: "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.

"It just takes five minutes out of your time to sign up to the register; that's like going to the kitchen to make a drink.

"You just think about the impact it is going to have on someone, it is saving someone's life. I feel lucky to have been able to give something back."

James says his family and Leah are planning to meet up again, possibly at a Liverpool FC game.

He said: "Without her, I wouldn't have a future."

DKMS has urged anyone aged 17-55, and in general good health, to sign up to the register here .

Dr Manos Niklolousis, Haematologist at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said:"Blood stem cells can be used to treat a wide range of blood cancers and blood disorders and we urgently need more people to come forward as donors.

"Currently, only 2% of the UK population are registered so matching donors with patients isnt easy within a growing multicultural population.

"Many of those in need are unable to find a sibling match and so rely on the generosity of strangers, and a blood stem cell transplant can be some patients only hope of survival.

"As a doctor who treats people with blood cancer or disorders, it is upsetting to know that some patients could have been saved if only more potential donors were registered and available to donate. I look forward to the day when there will be a donor for every patient in need."

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Tearful dad meets woman who saved his life and gave him future with his son - Liverpool Echo

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