Why it is so important to sign up to be a stem cell donor

Standing by the doors at Heathrow's International Arrivals, it was like a scene from a film.

The emotion, the anticipation, was every bit the stuff of movie magic.

Take the story - man given a 3% chance of survival, has his life saved by a stranger, and they meet for the first time, after one of them flies 3,000 miles around the world.

But this was no Hollywood tear-jerker, this was a story rooted very much in reality, and I knew I was about to witness something very, very special.

I had first met Alex Christopher back in 2020 , telling his story of how his stem cell donation had helped save the live of a man from America.

Correspondent Mel Barham with Patrick Languzzi (second from left), Pete McCleave (2nd from right), and Alex Christopher (right) Credit: ITV News

That's about all the 34-year-old from Chorley knew about his stem cell recipient back then, due to strict confidentiality surrounding transplants.

Alex had originally signed on to the donor register in 2018 in an attempt to help his friend Pete McCleave who was desperately in need of a stem cell transplant.

Pete had begun a campaign called 10,000 donors to encourage more people - especially those from a diverse background - to become donors.

Sadly Alex wasn't a match for Pete, but in an extraordinary twist of fate, Alex was contacted to say he was a match for somebody else.

That somebody was Patrick Languzzi. A 56-year-old man from Boston, Massachusetts who was gravely ill with leukaemia.

Patrick had been told he had three months to live unless he had a stem cell transplant.

Alex was found to be a 100% match and Patrick's life was saved thanks to Alex's donation.

Back in January this year, our cameras were rolling as Alex and Patrick met for the first time on a zoom call online.

But as they both broke down in tears, they knew they wanted to meet one day in person.

And that was what we were there to film at Heathrow airport.

There was barely a dry eye in the arrivals hall as the two men embraced.

As they hugged, Patrick told Alex: "I love you, thank you so much for what you did for me".

"I'd do it all over again," Alex told Patrick.

But this is not where this story ends, because Alex's friend Pete is still waiting for his life-saving match.

His diverse heritage of Macanese, Irish and Portuguese means his chances of finding a stem cell donor are more difficult.

Pete McCleave meets Patrick Languzzi at Heathrow airport, Pete is still waiting for a life-saving transplant Credit: ITV News

But Patrick is acutely aware that he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for not only Alex, but Pete too.

If it wasn't for Pete, Alex wouldn't have signed up to the stem cell donor register in the first place.

And that is why Patrick has now pledged to do all HE can to help find Pete a donor.

As I interview Alex and Patrick, the American pulls out a small photograph from his back pocket.

It's a photograph of Pete with his son Max.

"I carried this picture with me as just as a reminder and as motivation" Patrick tells me.

"This is my goal here, to try to find him a match, which I think, I think is going to happen. It's just going to be a question of when."

The photo of Pete McCleave with his son Max that is carried by Patrick Languzzi every day Credit: ITV News

This story really needs that fairytale ending - and my goodness it is the story that I as a journalist can't wait to tell - when Pete finally finds his life-saving match too.

You can find out more about how YOU can sign up to the donor register, here, or follow the step-by-step guide below:

  • To sign up to the register all you need to do is register for a kit.

  • Once you have filled in the form, the DKMS will sent you a kit through the post.

  • When you receive your kit you carry out a simple cheek swab and send the sample back to the DKMS in the pre-paid envelope.

  • If you are lucky enough to get a call saying you're a match for someone, the donation process is just like giving blood.