Lifestyle & Human Interest

After 5-Year-Old Diagnosed with Terminal Cancer, Thousands Line Up in Rain to Give Stem Cells


A 5-year-old boy from Worcester, England, has a fighting chance at life, thanks to an overwhelming number of people who registered to become stem cell donors in hopes that somebody would be a perfect match.

Oscar Saxelby-Lee was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer in December 2018.

The boy’s parents, Olivia Saxelby and Jamie Lee, learned that their son was suffering from T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and quickly found themselves in a race against time to save their son’s life.

Oscar endured four weeks of chemotherapy, but doctors knew that chemo alone was not going to be enough to save the child’s life.

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The doctor told his parents that Oscar would need a stem cell transplant very quickly, within three months, to battle the aggressive cancer.

With such a short window of time to find a stem cell donor, Oscar’s family and primary school teamed up with DKMS, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to finding donors for blood cancer patients.

The hope was to get as many registrants as possible, increasing the chances that at least one person would be a perfect match for Oscar.

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As Oscar’s community began to spread the word about his stem cell drive, droves of people rose to the occasion, coming in person and registering online as stem cell donors.

During a 2-day, in-person drive at the beginning of March, approximately 1,800 people came on the first day, and a staggering 3,000 showed up on the second day.

Another 1,000 people registered online, making a total of nearly 6,000 donors in the registry’s system.

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“It’s incredibly difficult to find someone who is a suitable match because there are 17,000 HLA characteristics that have to be looked at,” the head of donor recruitment with DKMS, Lisa Nugent, told the New York Times.

Sue Bladen, business manager of Pitmaston Primary School in Worcester, had a front row seat in watching people flock to the school and wait in line to try and help Oscar.

“People queued around the block, in the pouring rain, and nobody moaned about it,” Bladen said. “The spirit we had here was absolutely incredible, the generosity of people.”

After waiting, praying and hoping that at least one match might be found, Oscar’s parents received the thrilling news that three stem cell matches had been found.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of you out there who have registered, supported and continued to spread the word for our beautiful boy and those in need of wonderous bone marrow cells,” Oscar’s family wrote on his Facebook page, Hand In Hand for Oscar.

Saxelby told BBC News that the life-changing news was “a million times” better than winning the lottery.

“It will be scary, it will be tough, but we are prepared because we know he has got the strength to pull through and we are just over the moon,” Saxelby said.

She said that Oscar was in the final stages of preparation for the transplant, which included four days of radiotherapy.

Following the transplant, Oscar will heal in protective isolation since his immune system will be compromised, weak and unable to fight potential infections.

Oscar’s parents are optimistic that the transplant will save their son’s life.

“Obviously there is always, always an issue where some children and some people relapse, but he has got the potential to live a happy life,” she said.

“Knowing that someone out there will potentially save him is incredible.”

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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