13-year-old Meets His Lifesaver for the First Time at Big Love Gala

9 November 2018

On Wednesday 7 November a magical moment took place when a 13-year-old boy got to meet his lifesaver for the very first time at our Big Love Gala in London.

Donor and patient’s magical moment

Over 600 guests attended the Gala held at the Roundhouse, Camden, where they witnessed Jack Withers, meet his blood stem cell donor, Michael Mertens, 30, from Königswinter, Germany.

Jack was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia with monosomy 7, in September 2015, and was told his best chance of survival would be to find a blood stem cell donor – so the urgent search was on.

Michael initially registered as a potential blood stem cell donor with DKMS Germany, in 2012, and he was identified as Jack’s lifesaver and the life-saving donation took place in October 2015.

Since the donation the pair started to write anonymous letters to each other but due to strict regulations, they had never met before until now.

The special moment took place at the Gala, hosted by our founder Peter Harf, his daughter - our Global Ambassador, Katharina Harf, and Olivier and Valérie Goudet.

1 in a trillion chance

This was the second time the Withers family had to go through this traumatic ordeal. In 2010 Jack’s twin sister, Emily, was diagnosed with the same condition. The twins’s older sister, Lauren, was identified as a match for Emily but wasn’t a match for Jack.

The chances of Jack being diagnosed with the same condition was 1 in a trillion and the family have since been told that they are only 1 of 20 families worldwide to have gone through the ordeal twice.

Jack’s mum Jo said: “At the time we were so relieved to know that Jack had found his lifesaver and that he was going to be free of this horrid condition at last and he was being given a second chance at life.

"Without a matching donor being found Jack would not have survived and was only given six months to live. Jack was here to stay and we were prepared to do everything in our power to get him through this and the journey ahead."

Being a lifesaver

Michael, who donated his blood stem cells through a bone marrow collection, said: “When I registered to be a donor I had a feeling that one day I would donate to someone. I didn’t think twice when they said that I was going to be a match for someone. I felt really proud and I wish that everyone who can would register to be a donor.

“I feel that I have become a better person because of this donation process and it was wonderful to meet Jack and his family in person for the first time.”

Jack’s mum Jo said: “We already felt like Michael was part of our family before we had even met him. We love him dearly and we will always be eternally grateful to him for doing such a selfless act and helping Jack. It was so emotional and overwhelming meeting him in the flesh at the Gala.”

Jack said: “Michael is like a diamond and my living hero – thank you.”

How you can help

Is there a lifesaver in you? If you are aged 17-55 years old and in general good health you can register for your home swab kit and go on standby to help save the life of someone like you. Check your eligibility and sign up as a potential blood stem cell donor today.

If you’re not eligible or you’re already registered, why not check the other ways to get involved in the fight against blood cancer or help us cover donor registration costs?