A football coach from Taunton has met the stranger who saved his life.
A few weeks ago, Luke Buckingham, 29, met Richard Barker, 34, from Hull. Two years ago, Richard donated life-saving stem cells to Luke who had leukaemia.
Luke, who works at Bridgwater College, said: “It is more than I could ever thank Richard for – he was a complete stranger and he saved my life.”
Luke (left) and Richard (right) at their first meeting
Luke was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia while travelling in Australia in March 2008.
He had been suffering from tiredness and mouth ulcers for about six weeks but assumed the symptoms were caused by living an unhealthy lifestyle while travelling.
However, when he arrived in Melbourne, his girlfriend Holly suggested that he see a doctor just in case.
He tried to book an appointment but found it hard to find a doctor who could see him before he left the city.
He had given up and was about to move on to New Zealand when he was told there had been a cancellation and a doctor was able to see him.
The GP suggested that he have a blood test for peace of mind.
He had the test and was about to get on a bus to leave Melbourne when he received a call to say he should go to the Royal Melbourne Hospital straight away.
He said: “I think the GP in Melbourne saved my life. Leukaemia was nowhere near on my radar at all and I would have left the city without being diagnosed if it wasn’t for him.”
Luke added: “I had no idea that my immune system was really weak and I had just travelled through Thailand eating street food and swimming in rivers. It was amazing I didn’t get ill – I was extremely lucky.”
Terrified and confused Luke spent three days in hospital with no idea what was wrong with him.
Eventually, he had a bone marrow biopsy and was told the shocking news that he had leukaemia.
He said: “Holly and I were both devastated and we didn’t know what the future held. It was easier once we knew what the treatment plan was and could get on with it.”
Luke started his treatment in a hospital in Melbourne
Luke had his first round of chemotherapy in Melbourne which left him so unwell that he almost ended up in Intensive Care.
The chemotherapy successfully removed the cancer from his body so he was well enough to fly home in April 2008.
None the less, he still faced three further rounds of chemotherapy in a bid to prevent the leukaemia returning.
Between 2008 and 2012 Luke worked full time and went travelling again. He also proposed to his girlfriend, Holly.
However, there was another huge blow to come.
In July 2012 Luke had a check up which revealed some worrying signs.
He had another bone marrow biopsy and was told that the cancer had returned.
He was immediately told that his best chance of survival would be to have a bone marrow transplant.
His sister was tested but she was not a match for him so his doctors turned to Anthony Nolan.
The charity searched its register of potential donors and, fortunately, was quickly able to find a match for Luke.
After further intensive chemotherapy, he had his transplant on October 12, 2012.
All he knew about the donor was that he was a man from the UK and that he was a 10/10 match for Luke.
Luke said: “It was surreal – I found it hard to put a face to the bag of stem cells. I struggled to put those two things together.
“But, as time went on, I started to think about it and to want to make contact.”
So, a year after the transplant, he wrote an anonymous letter to his donor.
He was able to tell him that since the transplant he had married his girlfriend and they had bought a house together.
Since his transplant, Luke has married his girlfriend, Holly
Luke said: “I felt so inadequate – a thank you card seemed an inadequate thing to send someone who kept me alive.
“I just thanked him for giving me a chance.”
In October this year, two years after the transplant, Luke asked Anthony Nolan to put him in touch with his donor directly.
The charity confirmed that the donor was happy for Luke to know his identity and he was told that the man who saved his life was Richard Barker, an IT Manager and father-of-one.
The pair agreed to meet on Sunday and Luke travelled to Hull for the event.
Before the meeting Luke said: “It is hard to put into words the thought of meeting him – I think we will have lots in common.
“It’s hard to know what words I will have to say to him – I will have to find the words. I will also buy him a beer!”
After they had met, Luke added: “It was incredible – it was so surreal to meet Richard. It was a day I didn’t think I’d see.
“It’s hard to put into words what he has done for me – I will never forget it.”
Richard added: “It was a pleasure to meet Luke. He feels like an old friend already – we have so much in common.”
What's the kindest thing a stranger has done for you?
Anthony Nolan has launched a ‘Thank You Stranger’ campaign to highlight how small acts of generosity can make a person’s day or, in the case of the bone marrow transplant recipient like Luke, can even save a life.
You can find out more about how you can help save a stranger’s life at www.anthonynolan.org/thankyoustranger