Although there’s much darkness in the world, there’s also an occasional ray of light to reminds us, kind people do exist. Something remarkable happened in 2019, as thousands of people gathered in the rain to find out if they were a stem cell match for a young English boy, fighting cancer.
In Search of a Stem Cell Donor
Just after Christmas 2018, Oscar Saxelby Lee was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. The 5-year-old needed a lifesaving stem cell transplant within three months of his diagnosis.
Kindhearted Strangers Wait in the Rain
The first day of the event arrived with more than 200 volunteers and 1,800 possible stem cell donors. The following day, 3,000 more arrived, setting a record for most people to register as potential donors. Not only did the turnout surpass expectations. It’s even more heartwarming to know they stood out in the rain. Kindhearted people waited hours to try and help change this little boy’s life. After the event had closed, 1,000 more people signed up online, bringing the total up to more than 5,000 potential stem cell donors.
The boy’s primary school in Worcester, England, caught wind of his condition and stepped in to help, organizing a February 2019 event determined to help Oscar find a stem cell donor. A crowdfunding page had been started allowing anyone aged 17-55 to apply to see if they were a match. The page also raised more than $11,000 to help the family with Oscar’s care and medical expenses.
It took six weeks to determine a match. Lisa Nugent, head of donor recruitment, explained that there are 17,000 HLA characteristics that have to be examined. Furthermore, his mom explained the cancer would need to be in remission before he could have the transplant. “Things are unforeseen but, at the same time, we have a lot of hope the chemotherapy will help him into remission and into transplant where he needs to be,” she shared. Oscar, waited patiently at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital for a stem cell donor, undergoing 20 blood transfusions and chemotherapy.
Finding a Ray of Hope
A match had been found in May of 2019, and by June, Oscar was well on his way to healthy living. The weeks that followed his stem cell transplant were challenging, but he’d be able to return home sooner than originally anticipated. Although she was grateful for his health, she hadn’t expected him to be home until October. Now she was in a rush to prepare the house for his arrival because Oscar would be extremely vulnerable to the risk of infection for the next 18 months.
“He will be able to go out in the garden I’m sure – we will make things happen for him, but we have got to be really cautious,” his she said. During his time in recovery, Oscar had been gifted a robot, allowing him to interact with his friends, teacher, and peers. His mom expressed a deep sense of gratitude, stating, “It is incredible, my thanks go out to everybody.”
Although things had been looking up, Oscar’s struggle was far from over. His cancer returned, and they had run out of treatment options. Oscar’s doctors told his parents there was nothing left they could do for him. However, the desperate parents weren’t ready to accept defeat.
Read: Mom and 6 sons donate a combined 17 feet of hair after friend dies of cancer
Trying Something Different
They flew to Singapore for an experimental treatment option. The treatment, called CAR T-cell therapy, would use his father’s bone marrow and specially altered T-cells to help his body rebuild stem cells. It would cost more than $500,000, and so the family would again reach out to the community for help. This time, rather than a stem cell donor, they asked for monetary help to get Oscar the experimental treatment. Thousands of donors have invested in Oscar’s cause, which paid off. Six months later, the family shared on social media that the treatment had appeared to work. Oscar was cancer free!
One year later, in 2021, they shared Oscar was still cancer free and had resumed school. However, he still needed treatment to ensure cancer stayed at bay. Oscar would have to have 12-hour transfusions four nights a week for the foreseeable future. Despite still needing to maintain treatment, it seems Oscar is happy and thriving. “Ever since we’ve been back it’s been full on…. he came back with a number of problems and difficulties. His rehabilitation was always expected to be long process but actually he’s gone above and beyond, moving mountains,” his mom said.
Good News on the Horizon
In an update from March 2022, the family and healthy 8-year-old Oscar were heading to Australia. Unfortunately, Oscar would undergo another heartbreak as the family believed their vacation may not be possible. Due to his medical issues, the family couldn’t seem to get Oscar travel insurance. “We spent long hours trying to find a company that would insure Oscar, but it truly was proving to be almost impossible to find coverage for him,” his mom commented.
Once again, the family found themselves relying on good Samaritans to help them make their son’s dream come true. This time, rather than looking for a stem cell donor, Oscar needed someone willing to take a chance on him. With some work, SJL Insurance found a company willing to insure Oscar! However, their generosity didn’t stop there.
They even volunteered to pay the insurance fee with their charitable foundation, which had been founded only three years earlier. The grateful mom said, “We spoke through everything and declared all of Oscar’s medical needs with a fabulous operations assistant called Reece Turner and within 24 hours, Oscar was given the all-clear to be insured by them.”
Like any parent, painfully watching their child suffer, Oscar’s parents have been on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Nevertheless, they continue to press on. They’re strong and inspirational individuals who recognize all the good the community has done for their families. It’s truly heartwarming to see such a kind and generous response from thousands of strangers, just hoping to help save a little boy’s life.
Keep Reading: Mom Shares Heartbreaking Photo of Daughter Comforting Her Younger Brother Battling Leukemia
- “Oscar Saxelby-Lee: Stem cell match boy ‘doing well.’” BBC News. June 24, 2019.
- “Oscar Saxelby-Lee: Mum ‘overwhelmed’ by stem cell donor campaign. BBC News. March 14, 2019.
- “British boy whose parents told ‘nothing doctors could do’ about leukemia is ‘cured’ in Singapore” 7News. June 17, 2022.
- “Oscar Saxelby-Lee: Family celebrates one year since boy’s cancer care” BBC. June 26, 2021.
- “Oscar Saxelby-Lee heading on dream holiday to Australia” Worcester News. March 17, 2022.