Hero asks stranger whose life he saved to be best man at his wedding
- Credit: Archant
A selfless hero asked a 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 10 years ago, after the latter was diagnosed with life-threatening acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Engineer Mr Rogers, from Pirton, near Hitchin, joined the Anthony Nolan stem cell register after his father was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Sadly, his father was not able to find a life-saving donor and died 26 years ago.
But Mr Rogers was able to help save another sufferer’s life when retired boat builder Mr Dingwall, from Bricket Wood, near St Albans, was diagnosed with AML while on holiday in Monaco in October 2006.
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“When I was first diagnosed I did think I’d die,” said Mr Dingwall, who was rushed back home and began treatment at the Royal Marsden hospital.
“I remember thinking: ‘I’ll just do as I’m told and try and get through this.’”
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He was told his last chance of survival would be a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor.
Thankfully after Anthony Nolan searched its register for a donor, Mr Rogers was found to be a perfect match for Mr Dingwall – 16 years after he signed up.
Mr Rogers 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.
However they are allowed to exchange correspondence anonymously through Anthony Nolan.
The pair swapped cards and letters and, after the two-year anonymity window, decided to exchange contact details.
Remarkably, they lived just a few miles from one another and arranged to meet up.
Mr Rogers 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.”
And when Mr Rogers got engaged to his wife Laura, he knew exactly who he’d ask to be his best man on his wedding day in St Paul’s Walden, in Hertfordshire, on May 13.
“I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to have Brett as my best man?’” Mr Rogers said.
“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.
“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 Walden, making a speech to all our friends and family about the donation and how we met was so perfect. Dad would’ve loved that.”
Mr Dingwall 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.”
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.”
People aged between 16 and 30 years old and in good health can sign up to the Anthony Nolan register.
To donate towards the lifesaving work of Anthony Nolan, or to join the register, visit www.anthonynolan.org