Doncaster police officer meets boy whose life he saved with stem cell donation

There were tears in the eyes of 11-year-old James Benzel as he looked up at the man who gave him a second chance at childhood.
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Luke Bugdol wrapped his arm around the boy.

Four years after his stem cell donation saved James’ life, the pair had finally met.

“Me and James had a hug, and me and his mum. It was very emotional,” Luke said.

Luke Bugdol, who donated stem cells, meets his recipient James Benzel and James' mum Karen at the 2023 DKMS Gala. Photo: Dave BenettLuke Bugdol, who donated stem cells, meets his recipient James Benzel and James' mum Karen at the 2023 DKMS Gala. Photo: Dave Benett
Luke Bugdol, who donated stem cells, meets his recipient James Benzel and James' mum Karen at the 2023 DKMS Gala. Photo: Dave Benett
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“He’s a typical 11-year-old boy, he’s been through a lot but he’s got so much character.”

Back in February of 2019, Doncaster police constable Luke had donated stem cells via a bone marrow procedure. All he knew then was that his donation was going to help a child in the United States.

“I’ve got children myself and this was giving another child a chance of life,” reflects the 39-year-old.

He didn’t think twice when he got a call late in 2018 to say he was a match to someone in need. Luke had registered as a potential blood stem cell donor with blood cancer charity DKMS two years prior.

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He was inspired to do so after losing colleagues to cancer and the idea of bone marrow and organ donation came up in conversation at work.

“Without hesitation, at the end of my shift, I went home and registered to become a donor,” Luke previously told the press. “It wasn’t something I had thought about before.

“Registering was really easy- I registered online and was sent a ‘swab’ kit. I swabbed the inside of my mouth and sent it back in a pre-paid envelope. It was as easy as that.”

Two years after the donation, Luke contacted to the charity to say he was happy for his details to be passed on to his donor family, should they wish to receive them. James’ mum was of the same mindset – and they were put in contact.

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“She told me how James was doing but she also sent photographs so I could see what he looked like, photos with his school friends, family, siblings,” Luke says.

“I realised my stem cells had gone to a six-year-old little boy and I’d played some part in helping him.”

James, who lives in Nebraska, had been suffering with aplastic anaemia, a serious condition where not enough blood cells are produced in the body. He had also been diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer.

Following Luke’s donation, the youngster was able to return to school and his regular childhood activities.

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Though Luke had been in regular contact with James’ family about his progress, the pair only met for the first time onstage at a DKMS gala in London last night.

The star-studded event, opened by TV personality David Walliams, brought together more than 500 key supporters of the charity, who continue to help raise awareness and funds for blood cancer patients in need of a stem cell transplant.

Around £1.5million was raised for the charity, with funds set to help save patients worldwide by recruiting more donors and giving access to treatment and research.

Though blood cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, with more than 39,000 people diagnosed every year, currently, only around three per cent of the UK population is registered as a blood stem cell donor, the charity says.

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“This year’s DKMS London Gala showed how globally connected we are,” says Katharina Harf, chair of DKMS Global. “The funds we raised enable us to give patients with blood cancer a second chance at life.

"DKMS will always be committed to continuing its mission to help as many patients as possible around the world.”

For Luke, being able to give James the ultimate gift was a privilege. He is urging other people to consider signing up to become potential donors.

"To be somebody’s match could be a one in a million chance, you could be that one person that makes all the difference,” he says.

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“DKMS do a fantastic job making it so people like James can have a second chance,” he adds.

"Not everybody survives being diagnosed with a blood cancer. It affects their entire lives and not everyone gets a donor.

"So people do need to sign up and become a donor…It can change someone’s life, give them a second chance to have a long and fulfilling life. The reward for doing this can be immense.”

To find out more about DKMS and sign up to its stem cell donation register, visit: www.dkms.org