"I can't believe I got to meet a little girl whose life I saved"

Robert Brookes meets little Demi, 7, her mum Dee Dee and CEO of DKMS.Robert Brookes meets little Demi, 7, her mum Dee Dee and CEO of DKMS.
Robert Brookes meets little Demi, 7, her mum Dee Dee and CEO of DKMS.
​Few people can get to save the life of a total stranger, and fewer still can say they’ve been able to meet the person they’ve given life to.

​But that’s exactly what Robert Brooks, 26, can be immensely proud of as his donation of bone marrow saved the life of a baby girl from Louisiana in the USA – and he was able to meet her in person at a star-studded gala.

The Horncastle-born soldier, now based down in Southampton, had donated blood three times when he was approached during a session in 2018 if he would be interested in joining the bone marrow registry.

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DKMS (Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei) is an international charity which aims to fight blood cancer and other blood disorders, and after doing some research, Robert decided to do just that and he joined the DKMS registry.

Just six months later, he received a letter saying that his DNA had been shortlisted as a match for a one-year-old girl who was in need of a bone marrow transplant.

"I then got another letter a few days later saying that I was needed to donate – it was all very surreal,” Robert said.

He then went into hospital in London and a litre of bone marrow was extracted from his pelvis under general anaesthetic.

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"It was all a bit of a blur,” he said, “When I came round, the DKMS rang me and said they could now tell me that my bone marrow had been donated to a one year old girl called Demi.

"To be able to give a little girl her life – I was speechless and really shocked – there was nothing I could say.”

Demi was suffering from Haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare immune disorder which sadly had already claimed the life of her twin sister.

Shortly after, he received another call asking if he could donate stem cells to the recipient of his bone marrow, which he did shortly after on June 6, 2018.

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Then two years later, when the two-year anonymity clause was up, Robert was given the little girl’s mum, Dee Dee’s contact details and the two kept in touch on Facebook for a few years, and she would send him regular photos of Demi’s progress.

But then in May this year, Robert was invited to attend DKMS’s gala, hosted by James Cordon, where Demi, now a healthy seven-year-old, and Dee Dee would be attending and he would be invited to come and meet them.

"I was speechless again [when I was invited to meet Demi],” Robert said, “I was really nervous and lots of people were shaking my hand but the DKMS people really put me at ease.”

After the dinner, Demi and Dee Dee went up on stage to tell their story, and then Robert was called up to meet them, which he said was “a bit of a blur”:

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“It was surreal to see this little girl stood in front of me whose life I had saved, and she said she had been scared to meet me too,” he said, “Dee Dee was crying and I was tearing up too.”

Robert is now appealing for everyone who is able to to join the bone marrow register, which is incredibly simple – all it takes is visiting DKMS.org.uk, filling out a small form to check your edibility and collect your contact details, and then a swab kit will be sent to your house free of charge.

Swab the inside of your cheeks and send your sample back to DKMS, who will process your results and add you to the register.

There are two methods of donation – the first is PBSC (Peripheral blood stem cell) collection which takes place in about 90 percent of cases and is a similar procedure to giving blood, and takes about four to six hours.

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The second – which Robert underwent – involves going under general anaesthetic for a 45-minute procedure where a sample of bone marrow is taken from the thickest part of your pelvic bone, and is most often most used for small children recipients or specific blood/ bone conditions.

Every year, more than 2,000 people in the UK alone will need a stem cell transplant, and every 14 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer or a blood disorder – but only seven percent of the eligible UK population is registered as a potential donor, and four out of ten patients looking for their match won't have one currently on the stem cell registry.

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