A selfless hero asked the stranger whose life he saved to be best man at his wedding after the two struck up an unlikely friendship.
Paul Rogers, 51, donated his stem cells to Brett Dingwall, 67, just over ten years ago, after the latter was diagnosed with life-threatening acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Best man Brett joined Paul and his wife Laura as they were married at St Paul’s Walden in Hertfordshire on 13 May.
Engineer Paul from Pirton, Herts joined the Anthony Nolan stem cell register after his father was diagnosed with leukaemia. Sadly, his father wasn’t able to find a life-saving donor and passed away 26 years ago.
Retired boat-builder Brett from Bricket Wood, Herts, was diagnosed with AML while on holiday in Monaco in October 2006. He was rushed back home and began treatment at the Royal Marsden hospital. He was told his last chance of survival would be a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor.
Brett said: “I found the experience of being a patient quite frightening, and when I was first diagnosed I did think I’d die. I remember thinking, ‘I’ll just do as I’m told and try and get through this.”
After Anthony Nolan searched its register for a donor, Paul was found to be a perfect match for Brett – 16 years after he signed up.
Paul said: “I was happy to be called and more than happy to go through with the whole thing. In the end, I donated by PBSC (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection), where the stem cells were taken straight from my bloodstream.
“Everyone I speak with seems to think it’s this really invasive and painful procedure, where they stick a big needle in your back, but it’s not like that at all. Essentially, Brett was on his death bed and me donating helped him survive.
“I was a little bit nervous before donating, of course, but it’s nothing compared to what the other person is going through."
After a transplant, donors and recipients must remain anonymous for two years, but are allowed to exchange correspondence anonymously through Anthony Nolan. Paul and Brett exchanged cards and letters and, after the two year anonymity window, decided to exchange contact details.
Remarkably, Paul and Brett realised that they lived just a few miles from one another, and arranged to meet up.
Paul said: “Meeting Brett for the first time was pretty emotional. I was so chuffed – I felt like this was the best thing that I’d ever achieved in my whole life. We both got really choked up and tearful – it was an amazing experience.”
Brett said: “After the two years was up, he came round to my house and we finally met, which was absolutely amazing. We went out on my boat for a few days too, which was great.”
When Paul got engaged to his wife, he knew exactly who he’d ask to be his best man.
Paul said: “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to have Brett as my best man’? Brett is such a caring and amazing person. I’m so proud to be his friend, and it was incredible to think that he’d be there on my wedding day.”
Brett said: “When Paul asked if I’d be his best man, he knew I owed him more than that – I owed him my life. Laura and he are incredibly happy, and to share their big day was so special.”
Paul said: “It seems incredible that I saved my best friend’s life before I even knew him. And to have him there at the wedding in St Paul’s Waldon, making a speech to all our friends and family about the donation and how we met was so perfect. Dad would’ve loved that.”
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “Last year Anthony Nolan helped more than 1,300 people in need of a transplant from a stranger. Paul and Brett’s extraordinary story shows just how important it is for even more people to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register. You never know who might desperately need your help one day.”
If you’re between 16-30 years old and in good health, you can sign up to the Anthony Nolan register. To donate towards the lifesaving work of Anthony Nolan, or to join the register, go to: www.anthonynolan.org