'I felt quite special': Leland, 6, thanks supporters who helped find stem cell donor
Report by Jonny Blair
The six-year-old who captured the region's hearts when his campaign for a stem cell match went viral has been reflecting on a "whirlwind" year.
Leland from Gateshead was diagnosed with pre-leukaemia in September and was in need of a stem cell transplant.
When Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds sent Leland a video message to support his search, the number of people signing up to the donor register surged.
In November, his mum, Sarah, announced on Twitter that a match had been found. He is due to have the transplant in 2023.
Reflecting with ITV News Tyne Tees this Christmas, Leland said: "It made me think that I was quite special.
"I feel thanks to all those people. I also feel that all the other people who I got to register, I hope they can help someone else in need."
Leland's story gained traction after Blyth Spartans player JJ O'Donnell shared his story online ahead of their FA cup qualifier game against Wrexham FC.
Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds, who co-owns the Welsh club with actor friend Rob McElhenney, saw the post, sent Leland a message of support and invited him to be a VIP at the game.
Anthony Nolan is a charity that runs the stem cell donor register. Following that message, sign-ups jumped from an average of 78 per day, to over 500.
Leland's own club, Gateshead Redheugh, also held a tournament to mark the six-year-old's final game before treatment which turned into a mass-swabbing event. Stem cell charities Anthony Nolan and DKMS were pitchside to sign any potential donors up.
Mum Sarah said: "We've just had such a whirlwind time with all his medical appointments and a transplant donor being found. But it was just fantastic for Leland.
"His immune system does not work properly. And by having the stem cell transplant it's going to reboot his whole system and he can fight infections. Hopefully it's a lifelong cure."
Whether Ryan Reynolds' appeal was directly responsible for the match is unknown. But Sarah Rogers from Anthony Nolan said it likely increased the charity's exposure to the group it is most in need of.
"It enabled us to reach a new audience," she said.
"We need young men aged between 16 and 30 years old because this is the category most likely to be called upon to donate to a patient in need.
"And the surge of donors we saw following Leland's appeal means there are now more donors on our register who could potentially help patients in the future."
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