Joy as leukaemia sufferer Lara Casalotti finds stem cell donor match
A mixed-race student diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia has found a stem cell donor against the odds.
Lara Casalotti, 24, from Hampstead in north London, inspired a global campaign to find a match due to her mixed Thai and Italian heritage.
She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in December during a trip to Thailand and told her best hope of a cure was a stem cell transplant.
She faced a "needle in a haystack" search because only 3% of worldwide stem cell donor registers have mixed race donors. Lara's match would most likely come from someone with a similar ethnic background to herself.
Now, after a global search by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan - which included Thailand, the US and Italy - a match has been found.
The donor's identity has to be kept a secret due to patient-donor confidentiality regulations but it is hoped they will donate their stem cells in March.
Lara, who is studying for a Masters in global migration at University College London, said: "These past months have been a whirlwind but I am so thankful a donor with a genetic match has now been found.
"Thanks to everyone's immense support, I have always stayed hopeful that I would find one, but I realise how lucky I have been given how difficult it was to find that donor.
"I want to keep urging people to sign up to the donor registries so that everyone can have a chance of finding their match."
Lara's mother, Supanya, said: "As a mum, I feel pure relief as we knew the odds were stacked against Lara.
"Whoever the donor is, they will never, ever know how grateful I am. The transplant is still a few weeks away and I wish I could wrap them in cotton wool to keep them safe.
"We know we have a long road ahead as a transplant is an extremely serious procedure, but knowing there is a good match for Lara is a weight off our shoulders that we desperately needed."
Lara's brother, Seb, 20, said: "We've been so lucky in finding a match but we know that others are not so fortunate.
"The Match4Lara events planned around the world over the coming weeks will go ahead as planned, so that other families can one day receive the same good news.
"This campaign was hatched around the dinner table and we never expected it to receive such incredible support - we were inspired by the Match4Aary campaign, who is still waiting for a match, so we need people to keep signing up to registries worldwide."
The Match4Lara appeal has been backed by celebrities including novelist JK Rowling, Prime Minister David Cameron, and actors Stephen Fry and Mark Wahlberg.
Lara's family estimates that the number of people worldwide who have joined a stem cell register as a result is well in excess of 20,000.
Anthony Nolan also saw an unprecedented spike in new donors from black, Asian, ethnic minority and mixed race backgrounds in the UK.
Ann O'Leary, head of register development at Anthony Nolan, said: "We're over the moon that we've been able to find a suitable donor for Lara and that she's now able to begin her transplant journey.
"We're so grateful to Lara and all of her incredible supporters for spreading the word about the simple but vital act of donating stem cells. By diversifying the donor register, they have given hope to so many other people from ethnic minority and mixed race communities."