Thousands of people have tried to become stem cells donors in a record-breaking bid to save the life of a five-year-old boy with cancer.
Oscar Saxelby-Lee, from Worcester, inspired a total of 4,855 people to go to a testing drive at the weekend to see if they were a match.
Doctors say the schoolboy has just three months to find a donor from whom they can take blood cells to treat Oscar’s acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
He has already had chemotherapy since being diagnosed in December, but will need more aggressive treatment in order to overcome the disease.
Oscar’s parents first became concerned when they noticed unexplained bruising on their son’s body, and in December they were told he had ALL.
The family is now in a race against time to find someone who can donate blood stem cells – they say his chances of survival will ‘severely diminish’ if a donor isn’t found within three months.
And crowds of people turned up to an event at Pitmaston Primary School in Worcester, where Oscar is in reception class, over the weekend to see if they could be a match.
The charity which will test the swabs, DKMS, said its previous record for a single event was 2,200 people – meaning Oscar’s more than doubled that.
Oscar’s teacher Sarah Keating said: ‘I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I’ve never had a child go through something like this.
‘You hear about children getting cancer and you think “that’s dreadful”, then you move on. In this case we haven’t moved on, we will fight this.’
ALL is a rare illness and only affects around 650 people in the UK each year, around half of whom are children.
It is a fast-growing, aggressive cancer which causes large numbers of underdeveloped white blood cells to be released from diseased bone marrow.
These blood cells continue to spread and cause symptoms like tiredness, difficulty breathing, pale skin, fever, and bone and joint pain.
Oscar has had 20 blood transfusions and four weeks of chemotherapy.
Oscar’s teaching assistant Laura Senter, 22, said his diagnosis came as a shock to their class because his illness developed so quickly.
She said: ‘I couldn’t believe it. I saw him before Christmas and he was his usual happy-go-lucky self.
‘It’s a nightmare for this to happen. You can’t really do anything about it, it’s heart-breaking.
‘We have gone into action mode to try and find a donor.’
About 80 volunteers queued outside in the rain and took over two of the school’s halls for the weekend, handing out swabs and completing donor registration forms.
Scientists will try to find a donor whose blood cells have a similar structure to Oscar’s so his body will accept them if they are transplanted.
He needs a stem cell transplant to replenish his own blood cells, which are being destroyed by chemotherapy – the closer the match is, the more likely the treatment is to work.
Ms Senter added: ‘I visited Oscar in hospital last month when it was his birthday. All the parents bought gifts for him.
‘Because of all the chemo he was very swollen but you could tell he was very much still him inside.
‘When we came out we knew we needed to do everything we could to support him.’
It is unknown whether doctors have already searched the existing stem cell register to find a match for Oscar but Sarah Gray, spokesperson for the charity DKMS told the BBC: ‘It’s really difficult to find a match, it’s essentially like winning the lottery.
‘It’s very complex and so the more people we can get on that register, the more chances there are to saves lives of patients like Oscar.’
Oscar’s desperate parents, Olivia Saxelby and Jamie Lee, of St John’s, Worcester, launched an appeal to find a match after his diagnosis.
They aimed to get as many people as possible to sign up to a blood stem cell donor register as part of a campaign called ‘Hand in Hand for Oscar’.
Miss Saxelby, 23, said: ‘We felt like we could not see light at the end of the tunnel, but when looking at Oscar’s cheeky smile, bravery and determination, we managed to pull our strength together again.
‘From that moment of fear and confusion, we as a family became stronger than ever. Oscar reminded us how to fight again and just how courageous he is.
‘Not once has he shown weakness, nor has he ceased to amaze us throughout the most difficult times and that to us is a true warrior.
‘Oscar is a fun, loving, energetic five-year-old boy who deserves to live to the full alongside the other troopers fighting such horrific diseases.
‘Not only does he need to enjoy a normal life a child should live, he now needs someone else to save him.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Sam Blanchard