Five-year-old Oscar Saxelby-Lee, from Worcester, is in a race against time. This is because he has acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an extremely aggressive form of cancer that releases huge amounts of underdeveloped white blood cells from diseased bone marrow.
As these blood cells spread throughout the body, they can cause symptoms such as tiredness, difficulty breathing, pale skin, fever, and bone and joint pain. Oscar had only been diagnosed with ALL in December and unless a donor can be found who can donate blood stem cells within three months from that time, Oscar’s chances of survival will “severely diminish.”
ALL is a rare illness that only affects around 650 people in the UK each year with roughly half that number being children.
The boy has already undergone 20 blood transfusions and four weeks of chemotherapy but his best chances at survival will be a stem cell donor.
And inspired by the boy’s story, around 4,855 people lined up for hours in the rain over the weekend to see if they were a match.
The testing drive was held at Pitmaston Primary School in Worcester where Oscar is a student. DKMS, the charity that will test the swabs, said their previous record for a single testing event was 2,200 people, which made the turnout for Oscar quite remarkable.
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.”
Laura Senter, who is Oscar’s teaching assistant, said everyone in his class was shocked at his diagnosis because of how quickly the illness progressed.
She recalled, “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.”
Chemotherapy is destroying Oscar’s blood cells and a stem cell transplant will allow him to replenish them. The treatment is more likely to work the closer the match is.
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.”
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