‘I owe my life to an amaz­ing stranger’


Manchester Evening News - - NEWS - By TODD FITZGERALD news­[email protected] @MENnews­desk

‘ICAN’T ever find the words to thank her. With­out her, I wouldn’t be here.”

Denise Bodie owes Iris Graf her life.

She was pre­par­ing for death; pre­par­ing to say good­bye to her fam­ily.

But, thanks to Iris, she has been able to see her grand­chil­dren grow up.

Thanks to her, she was given a sec­ond chance. Thanks to her, she’s ‘looking for­ward to a brighter fu­ture.’

The as­ton­ish­ing thing about this story – about two women who share a spe­cial bond – is that the pair were strangers, liv­ing nearly 600 miles apart.

They weren’t al­lowed to even know each other’s names un­til two years af­ter Iris saved Denise’s life.

It’s a heart-warm­ing tale of self­less­ness, eter­nal grat­i­tude and hope.

Mum-of-two Denise, 57, from Marus Bridge, Wi­gan, was di­ag­nosed with acute myeloid leukaemia just five days be­fore Christ­mas in 2011. She was 49 at the time. She’d been un­well for months. Af­ter eight months of chemo­ther­apy, Denise went into re­mis­sion.

Just a few months later, her cancer re­turned.

Denise, un­der­stand­ably, was dev­as­tated.

She was told she would need a stem cell trans­plant. Her health de­te­ri­o­rated, which led to the trans­plant be­ing post­poned.

Things got much worse.

The chemo­ther­apy caused locked-in syn­drome.

Denise – a for­mer pri­mary school worker – could see, hear and feel, but couldn’t move and could only ut­ter a few words.

She was dy­ing. When her fam­ily came to visit her, they thought they were say­ing good­bye.

But, amaz­ingly, Denise’s speech and move­ment slowly started to re­turn and she was deemed well enough to have a trans­plant on De­cem­ber 18, 2013.

A match­ing donor had been found – Iris, 45, from Hei­del­berg in Ger­many.

Iris do­nated stem cells, which were trans­ported to Manch­ester Royal In­fir­mary, where Denise was be­ing treated.

On the day of Denise’s trans­plant, Iris sent her a Christ­mas card.

It read: “I hope this will be the best Christ­mas present you will ever re­ceive, love from your Christ­mas an­gel.”

Denise, who spent that Christ­mas in hos­pi­tal, said: “I was in iso­la­tion and very ill. My fam­ily came to visit me, but I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber that much of it.

“My re­cov­ery hasn’t been straight for­ward. I’ve spent over 70 weeks in hos­pi­tal since I was di­ag­nosed, but I’m hope­ful that my health will im­prove and thanks to Iris I’m looking for­ward to a brighter fu­ture. I have a qual­ity of life I couldn’t have dreamed of in that hos­pi­tal bed in 2013, when I was told I was dy­ing.”

Fol­low­ing a trans­plant, in or­der to pro­tect both the re­cip­i­ent and the donor, the iden­tity of both par­ties must be kept con­fi­den­tial for two years.

They can com­mu­ni­cate through anony­mous let­ters and cards. Af­ter two years, they’re al­lowed to meet in per­son.

Denise and Iris spoke anony­mously, be­fore meet­ing.

The first Christ­mas af­ter her trans­plant, Denise bought two Christ­mas an­gels.

She kept one for her­self and sent one to Iris. Ev­ery Christ­mas, they both put the an­gels up in their home.

Denise trav­elled to Ger­many to meet Iris for the first time in Septem­ber 2016.

The two have since formed a spe­cial friend­ship, with Iris trav­el­ling to Wi­gan to visit Denise the fol­low­ing year.

In Au­gust this year, Denise went with her sis­ter Mandy to Ger­many to visit Iris and her fam­ily.

“It was so nice to meet her hus­band, Jur­gen, and her three chil­dren,” Denise said. “Iris took us to The Black Forest where she grew up and showed us her fam­ily home.

“We will al­ways stay in touch and maybe one year my fam­ily and I might visit her at Christ­mas time. She’s such a warm-hearted, kind, lov­ing per­son and we just get on so well. We are ge­netic twins now.”

When they met for the first time, Denise bought Iris a sil­ver bracelet with an an­gel charm.

“I can’t ever find the words to thank Iris for her gift of life,” Denise added. “With­out her, I wouldn’t be here. I’m so happy to see my grand­chil­dren grow up, which is only pos­si­ble be­cause of self­less donors, like Iris, who sign up to the stem cell reg­is­ter, will­ing to save the life of peo­ple like me.”

The An­thony Nolan char­ity finds match­ing donors for peo­ple with blood cancer and gives them a sec­ond chance.

They also carry out ground­break­ing re­search to save more lives and pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and sup­port to pa­tients af­ter a stem cell trans­plant, through its clin­i­cal nurse spe­cial­ists and psy­chol­o­gists, who help guide pa­tients through their re­cov­ery.

Denise Bodie, right, with stem cell donor Iris Graf

Denise with her daugh­ter Natalie on Christ­mas Day, 2013

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