DKMS’s annual Gala brings together donor and patient for the first time

12 November 2019

On 6th November,  DKMS held its third Love Gala at the Roundhouse in London. This star studded event was hosted by the charity’s Global Ambassador Katharina Harf, and Grammy-award winning Marcus Mumford provided the musical entertainment. At the event, we surpassed our fundraising goal and raised over £1.4 million.

It was also the first time that James O’Donnell, 43 from Manchester met his ‘lifesaver’ Leah McDougall, 28 from Bootle in Liverpool. James was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia in May 2016, a rare blood disorder where the bone marrow doesn’t have enough blood stem cells. His condition was life-threatening, and after six months of chemotherapy treatment his blood count was still not what it needed to be, so a blood stem cell transplant was his only chance of survival. All of James’ siblings were tested, but sadly no match was found, and he had to rely on a donation from a stranger.

After ten months of waiting, James’s match and lifesaver, Leah was identified. Sadly, not everyone is so lucky with around 2,000 people in need of a lifesaving blood stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant), after being diagnosed with blood cancer or a rare blood disorder.  

Following a cheek swab, Leah registered as a donor through DKMS just one year before and was found to be James’s perfect match. In March 2017, she donated her bone marrow as it would have given James’s a better chance of survival.

Two and a half years after his transplant, James is back to good health and finally met his ‘genetic twin’, Leah live on stage at the Gala.

For those with a blood cancer or a rare blood disorder diagnosis, a blood stem cell donation from a genetically similar person can be the only option for survival. Sadly, only 2% of the UK population are registered as blood stem cell donors, so the chances of those in need finding a match are extremely slim with over 17,000 different blood tissue types.  

DKMS is dedicated to the fight against blood cancer through recruiting stem cell donor; creating awareness of blood disorders and raising funds to match donor registrations costs.

James O’Donnell, transplant patient, said:

“Meeting Leah was probably one of the most important moment of my life and she is everything that I thought she’d be. As I always say, my mother brought me into the world but Leah kept me in it and I’m very thankful  that I was given the chance  to meet her.

“When I first saw her, the only thing I kept saying was thank you to her as there were no other words. She is such a kind, warm and generous person and we’ve already bonded as friends. We’ve already said that we will stay in touch and I really hope that we can see her again.”

Blood stem cell donor, Leah McDougall, added: “Meeting James and his family at the Gala will be one of the stand out experiences of my life. To see him looking so well and healthy is all the thanks I need. Having met his wife and son, I know that I didn’t only save James but a husband and father too.

“I never had any doubt in my mind about donating and having seen the difference it can make, it really can save someone’s life !  I would urge everyone who can, to do the same. It has been a truly life affirming moment and one that I would do again and again if I needed to.”

How you can help

You too can become a lifesaver like Leah. If you’re 17 – 55 and in general good health, please request a home swab kit at: dkms.org.uk to register as a potential lifesaver. You simply swab the inside of your cheeks and send everything back to us to join the Registry.