LONDON — More than 5,000 people stunned event organizers last weekend when they answered a call for a stem cell donor for a five-year-old cancer patient, breaking Britain’s record for such an event.
The patient, Oscar Saxelby-Lee, received a diagnosis in December of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare and aggressive cancer that causes the bone marrow to release immature white blood cells. The disease afflicts about 650 people a year in Britain, according to the National Heath Service.
Oscar underwent intense chemotherapy treatment for four weeks, but doctors say he needs a stem cell transplant within three months.
Oscar’s cause was taken up by the community and particularly his school, Pitmaston Primary School in Worcester, a city in central England. “We decided we would do whatever it takes to find a donor for Oscar,” Sue Bladen, the school’s business manager, said in a telephone interview.
The school started a crowdfunding page in February along with Olivia Saxelby and Jamie Lee, Oscar’s parents. The fund-raiser has already exceeded its original 5,000-pound target, gathering more than 8,600 pounds, or about $11,300, so far.
After doctors made clear the need for a stem cell transplant, Oscar’s school and his parents decided to organize a donor event through DKMS, an international nonprofit organization focused on finding donors for blood cancer patients. Anyone aged 17 to 55 was eligible to come in and register as a donor, Ms. Bladen said.
The cause was popular from the start: More than 200 volunteers arrived from across Britain to help with everything from registering donors to manning the school parking lot for the event.
But the turnout far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.
More than 1,800 donors were registered on Saturday, the first day of the event. And Sunday was “absolutely wild,” said Ms. Bladen, as more than 3,000 people showed up to become potential donors.
“People queued around the block, in the pouring rain, and nobody moaned about it,” she said. “The spirit we had here was absolutely incredible, the generosity of people,” she added.
The turnout prompted Ms. Saxelby and Mr. Lee to leave Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where Oscar has been hospitalized since December, to come to the school to thank some of the possible donors in person.
“Leaving Oscar this morning to show our gratitude to all those who have stood by our side and done their bit to help save our beautiful, kind and loving boy was very difficult, but on return his little face lit up as we shared all the lovely videos,” Ms. Saxelby said in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“What a fantastic turn out for our little warrior and those in need of a stem cell transplant,” Mr. Lee wrote on Facebook. “This gives us more and more hope in finding a match for our Ozzy Bear.”
According to DKMS, 4,855 people registered at Pitmaston Primary School over the weekend, breaking the organization’s event record in Britain and increasing the odds for Oscar and others waiting for a stem cell transplant to find a suitable donor.
And the registrations didn’t end when the donor drive was over.
“Incredible to hear that another 1,000 people registered with DKMS online last weekend,” bringing the total to 5,800, Kate Wilcock, the head teacher at Pitmaston Primary, said on Twitter on Monday.
Ms. Bladen, the school’s business manager, said that they were “delighted” by the turnout as they “are hoping to help as many people as possible,” but also because time is critical.
It will take a minimum of six weeks to determine whether one of the potential donors is a suitable match for Oscar, said Lisa Nugent, the head of donor recruitment for DKMS, in a telephone interview.
“It’s incredibly difficult to find someone who is a suitable match because there are 17,000 HLA characteristics that have to be looked at,” Ms. Nugent said.
But she is hopeful they will find a match for Oscar, partly because of his ethnicity — “white British people are better represented at the register,” she said — and partly because so many people have come forward.
Oscar is aware of his situation, but his spirit remains high, his parents said. They posted a photo of him smiling playfully on his way to a bone marrow test, a white tube inserted in his nose held in place by two teddy bear adhesives.
“This cheeky chops is about to go down to theater for a bone marrow aspirate and lumbar puncture,” the caption read.
“He knows what’s going on, there’s no way we can shelter him from the treatment and what is to come, but just look at his courage, the constant strength he shows and the determination in his eyes!”
More swabbing test and charity fund-raiser events for Oscar are scheduled to take place in Worcester, Plymouth, Northampton and Birmingham until April.