An emotional moment at Light the Night in Wollongong when a bone marrow donor and recipient met for the first time

Every year Wollongong’s Flagstaff Hill is lit up by gold, blue and white lanterns.

The annual fundraiser and lantern ceremony for the Leukaemia Foundation is always a spectacular sight as hundreds of people walk two laps of grassed area carry their lanterns.

But there was an even more impressive sight for one of the participants Neil Sanderson when he met a man who helped save his life face-to-face for the first time.

Special bond: Neil Sanderson meets his bone marrow donor Bernard Smith just before they were handed lanterns and walked around Flagstaff Hill for the Leukaemia  Foundation fundraiser Light the Night. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Special bond: Neil Sanderson meets his bone marrow donor Bernard Smith just before they were handed lanterns and walked around Flagstaff Hill for the Leukaemia Foundation fundraiser Light the Night. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Mr Sanderson and Bernard Smith had spoken on the phone before but had never met in person until Friday night in the cool night air. Surrounded by colourful lanterns they gave each other hug in an emotional, heartwarming, inspiring and encouraging moment for all those gathered to help light the night for blood cancer.

Mr Sanderson stood up in the front of the crowd and told his story about being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome MDS in 2013 and his subsequent bone marrow transplant in 2014.

That would not have been possible without Mr Smith.

“I was fortunate after one year to be placed on the bone marrow registry to try and find a donor,” Mr Sanderson said.

“That was three years ago and I am now pretty much clear. I would like to share with your something very special. My donor is here with me tonight. It is the first time we have actually physically met.”

My donor is here with me tonight. It is the first time we have actually physically met

Bone marrow recipient Neil Sanderson

When Mr Sanderson told everyone how special it was to meet Mr Smith everyone applauded them both.

“This is a little overwhelming really,” Mr Sanderson said.

Mr Smith said after making the life saving donation he wanted to do more. So he started talking about the donor registry as mush as he could to anyone who would listen. “I put it through the RAAF News and later on this year they are actually going to do a follow up because I have invited Neil up to the base”.

Mr Smith believes it is important to promote the donor registry a lot more. “The more people who are on there the more chance a patient has of finding a life saving donation”.

At the end of the fundraiser emcee Margaret Biggs said more than $20,000 had been raised for Illawarra people affected by a blood cancer and their families.

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