Patient & Donor Meeting

11-year-old James Meets His Donor

At the 2023 DKMS London Gala, James met his donor, Luke, a 39-year-old veteran of the British Royal Navy. James, who is from Nebraska, was first diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 2018 as he was finishing kindergarten. He and his family are grateful to his lifesaving donor from 'across the pond.'

by Maya Ward
Public Relations Manager
Further articles
DKMS patient James and his mother with DKMS donor, Luke

In May of 2018, James Benzel, a Lego-loving 11-year-old from Alliance, Nebraska, was diagnosed with a severe case of aplastic anemia.

“He ended up being life-flighted to Denver, all of his blood counts had dropped to practically nothing. At that point, his platelet counts were about 1,000. Any platelet count below 20,000, you could just spontaneously bleed to death. When we arrived in Denver, we actually had a doctor meet us in the room within about 15 to 20 minutes of our arrival and let us know that he either had, most likely, leukemia, or aplastic anemia.” James’s mother, Karen, shared with the Alliance Times-Herald.

Eventually, James developed non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. Doctors told James and his family that the best course of treatment would be a bone marrow transplant and that he would need a matching donor. Unfortunately for, James who is one of six, none of his five siblings were a match. The family had to hope that James’s perfect donor was somewhere out there.

That donor ended up being Luke Bugdol, a 39-year-old navy veteran and member of the South Yorkshire Police Department from across the pond in Doncaster, UK. In 2016, Luke had signed up with DKMS years prior after losing a friend to cancer. Although it had been years since he registered, when Luke got the notification from DKMS that he may be a match, he quickly went in for the confirmatory tests.

On February 4th, 2019, Luke donated his bone marrow and just one day later, on February 5, 2019, James received his lifesaving transplant.

James endured a few more hardships post-transplant, but we are happy to share that he is now in remission and doing well. Thanks to Luke’s donation, James is now back in school and gets to be a regular kid again.

Due to donation regulations, there was a two-year period of anonymity after the transplant. But quickly after, Luke and James’s mother Karen began exchanging messages. Karen reached out first, hoping that Luke would be receptive to talking. Luke was, and he wrote back.

Since then, Luke and the Benzel family have exchanged messages every few weeks. Luke is checking in to see how James is doing. But they didn’t have the chance to meet until this past May when Luke and James met for the first time on stage at the DKMS London Gala.

“Going up on stage, it was nerve-racking just to meet him. It was absolutely amazing, a brilliant event. Being able to see him and meet him, he’s an absolute little character. He’s gone through the hardest part. The emotions that were there were joy and happiness.” - Luke to the Alliance Times-Herald

After the glitz and glam of the gala, Luke and James had the chance to spend some time together talking about everything and nothing at the same time. The two now have a bond that will last for the rest of their lives.

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