Wigan gran so grateful to donor Iris as she celebrates her '˜new life'

A Wigan gran who almost died from leukaemia is celebrating the gift of life after being given a second chance by her Christmas Angel - amazingly, a stranger from Germany.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 24th December 2018, 8:46 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 5:02 pm
Iris and Denise during one of their get-togethers
Iris and Denise during one of their get-togethers

Denise Bodie first became unwell in the summer of 2011. While on holiday in Turkey celebrating her 49th birthday, she began feeling constantly exhausted.

After several months and multiple trips back and forth to the doctors, the gran-of-two was eventually diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia that December, just five days before Christmas.

Eight months later, following a gruelling course of chemotherapy she went into remission, but was shortly after given the devastating news that her cancer had returned.

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In order to survive, Denise needed a stem cell transplant but unfortunately her health deteriorated, which led to her transplant being postponed.

The chemotherapy she had been having caused locked-in syndrome, where she could see, hear and feel but couldn’t move and only had a small amount of speech left.

It was at this point that Denise was told that she was dying and when her family came to visit her, they thought they were saying goodbye.

However, amazingly her speech and movement slowly started to return, and she was well enough to have her transplant in December 2013.

Her five siblings were tested to see if they were a match for Denise but unfortunately none of them were.

Luckily a matching donor was found in the form of Iris from Germany.

Iris donated her stem cells which were then transported to the Manchester Royal Infirmary where Denise was receiving treatment.

On the day of the transplant, Iris sent her a Christmas card which said: “I hope this will be the best Christmas present you will ever receive, love from your Christmas Angel.”

After the op, Denise slowly started to recover and on December 18 she celebrated her five-year transplant anniversary.

“Christmas day was less than a week after my transplant, so I was in isolation and very ill,” she said. “My family came to visit me, but I don’t really remember that much of it.

“This year I celebrated my five-year transplant anniversary. My recovery hasn’t been straight forward, but everyone wants to get to the five-year milestone.

“I’m so happy to still be alive and be able to celebrate Christmas with my son, daughter and two adorable grandchildren.

“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. Thanks to Iris I’m looking forward to a brighter future.

“Last Christmas I invited all of my family to my house and made Christmas dinner for everyone. I’d not done it for so long, so it was a big celebration.”

Following a transplant, the identity of both parties must be kept confidential for two years, but they can communicate by sending anonymous letters and cards to each other, after two years they are allowed to meet in person.

Denise eventually travelled to Germany to meet Iris and the two have since become firm friends, with Iris travelling to Wigan. They are also both planning on seeing each other again next summer.

Denise said: “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 and the first Christmas after her transplant, she sent Iris a silver Christmas angel as a token of thanks for saving her life.

“I can’t ever find the words to thank Iris for her gift of life, without her I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

“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.”

Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan uses its register of stem cell donors to find someone with a matching tissue type who has pledged to donate.

It also costs £40 to recruit each potential donor to the register, so Anthony Nolan relies on financial support.

Anthony Nolan also carries out pioneering research to increase stem cell transplant success, and supports patients through their transplant journeys.

Terence Lovell, director of engagement at Anthony Nolan said: “Iris gave Denise the greatest gift imaginable, the chance to celebrate Christmas with her family.

“Our amazing stem cell donors continue to enable many patients with blood cancer to spend Christmas with their loved ones, who wouldn’t be here without their act of kindness.

“This Christmas we aim to raise more funds, more awareness and to recruit more young people to the Anthony Nolan register.

“Anyone wanting to support our work can visit our website and make a donation, which will help give someone like Denise, a second chance of life in the future.”

For more information about Anthony Nolan at Christmas, please visit www.anthonynolan.org/christmas