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Thousands queue in the rain to help boy with cancer

Record 4,855 people queue in the rain for HOURS to see if they are a stem cell match for boy, five, battling rare cancer after his parents launch desperate plea in hope of saving his life

  • Oscar Saxelby-Lee, from Worcester, has acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
  • Thousands of people went to get swabbed at his school to see if they could help
  • Doctors say he only has three months to find a donor to help cure his cancer 

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. 

Nearly 5,000 people turned up for a registration event to see if they could be a stem cell match for Oscar Saxelby-Lee, who needs a donor within the next three months to be able to fend off his leukaemia

Oscar, pictured with his parents, Jamie and Olivia, needs a stem cell transplant to try and cure his acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Volunteers and prospective donors took over two halls at Pitmaston School in Worcester over the weekend

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.

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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.

Leukaemia, a cancer of the blood, can be treated with stem cells which are taken from a donor and put into the patient’s body to replace the diseased blood cells which are killed during chemotherapy

Oscar, pictured before he became ill, was diagnosed with leukaemia in December after his parents noticed unexplained bruising on his body

Oscar has already had chemotherapy in a bid to control his disease but he will need more advanced treatment to get rid of the leukaemia completely

A teaching assistant in Oscar’s class, Laura Senter, 22, said he had been his ‘usual happy-go-lucky self’ before Christmas, and his cancer diagnosis came as a shock to the school

People who went along to the school on Saturday (pictured, a woman named Tammy who was among the crowds) had their saliva swabbed so it can be sent to a lab for DNA testing to see if they could donate their blood cells to Oscar

Local man Jason Knight (pictured) was one of the thousands of people who went along to register as a stem cell donor in the hope of helping five-year-old Oscar beat cancer

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.

Oscar’s mother, Olivia, said he has been ‘a true warrior’ throughout his illness

‘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.’

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.’


As a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), stem cell transplants work by replacing blood cells which are diseased or destroyed by chemotherapy.

Having a stem cell transplant means the body can withstand higher doses of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

During chemo, while cancer cells are destroyed by the drugs, so too are healthy blood cells which are necessary for the internal organs and immune system to work properly.

If too many of these are destroyed it can be deadly, so doctors must control how much chemotherapy someone has – they want to destroy as many cancerous cells as possible without killing a deadly amount of healthy cells.

Having a donor means that cells killed by chemo can be replaced using donor stem cells – which turn into red and white blood cells once injected into the body – helping the patient to recover quicker from the gruelling therapy. 

Stem cells are taken from a donor’s blood sample so are preferable to bone marrow transplants, which have to be done under general anaesthetic.

Source: Cancer Research UK

The charity which tests swabs collected at registration events, DKMS, said its previous record for a single event was 2,200 people, meaning the turnout for Oscar’s more than doubled the record

The school session happened after Oscar’s parents, Olivia Saxelby and Jamie Lee, launched their ‘Hand in Hand for Oscar’ appeal to try and get as many people as possible to get tested

Oscar’s mother, Olivia, said: ‘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’

At the registration event, the nearly 5,000 people who turned up filled out forms with their details and had swabs taken so their blood can be tested in a lab to see if it is a match for Oscar’s

Oscar’s school has ‘gone into action mode’ to try and find a donor, according to the five-year-old’s teaching assistant, Laura Senter

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.’


Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of blood cancer that starts from young white blood cells in the bone marrow.

There are around 810 new cases in the UK every year. In the US, ALL affects approximately 1.7 adults per 100,000. 

Anyone can develop ALL, however, it mainly affects younger people.

Many ALL symptoms are vague and flu-like, such as: 

  • General weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Frequent infections
  • Bruising or bleeding easily, including nosebleeds, heavy periods and blood in the urine or faeces
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bone or joint pain 
  • Breathlessness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Feeling full
  • Paler skin than normal

Risks for developing ALL include exposure to radiation, smoking, being overweight and having a weak immune system.

Research suggests being breastfed and exposed to childhood infections may reduce a person’s risk.

The main ALL treatment is chemotherapy. Patients may also have radiotherapy, steroids or bone marrow transplants.

Source: Cancer Research UK

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