The strangers who saved each other’s lives

Marius (left) with Nick (right)
Image caption,Marius (left) with Nick (right)

By Sharon Barbour and Natalie Wright

BBC News

With an anonymous stem-cell donation, Marius Werner saved a British doctor’s life – and, the young German says, it may have saved him too, giving him purpose when he had felt suicidal.

With a rare type of blood cancer, Dr Nick Embleton’s only hope was a bone-marrow transplant.

And unable to find a match in the UK, the search was extended worldwide.

Two years on, BBC News and charity Anthony Nolan help two “blood brothers” find each other for the first time.

‘Might die’

For more than two decades, Nick has worked in Newcastle’s neonatal intensive-care unit, helping to save thousands of the world’s smallest patients.


But in 2021, he needed a doctor himself.

Walking down the hospital corridors, he says he “had no idea what was about to unfold”.

“I was fully aware I might die, so I made a will,” he says.

“I broke this news to my wife and my kids.

“I felt saddest for my kids – I didn’t want them to grow up the rest of their lives without their dad.”

Marius donating
Image caption,Marius giving his life-saving donation

A bone-marrow transplant replaces damaged blood cells with healthy ones – but the body automatically rejects them unless they match.

Charlotte Hughes, from the Anthony Nolan charity, said: “We search the UK register first and hopefully find a match here.

“If we are unable to, then Anthony Nolan search worldwide to find a match.

“A match could come from anywhere.”

‘Very overwhelmed’

Both donor and patient must remain anonymous until the transplant is known to have worked

As soon as he learned it had, after two years, Nick told BBC News he wanted to track down his donor.

Working with Anthony Nolan, BBC News identified Marius, 24, of Chemniz, near Dresden, who had been on the donor register since his late teens.

And he agreed to fly to the UK and meet Nick, at Maggie’s Newcastle cancer-support centre, at the Freeman Hospital, where he had his transplant.

As the two men hug, Marius says: “I’m very overwhelmed – I’m shaking.”

‘You’re welcome’

Nick tells him: “The cancer cells have all gone.

“When they check my blood, all of those blood cells belong to you.

“I would be dead if it wasn’t for you.

“I’ve got four children – they wouldn’t have their dad.

“I mean I just really want to say, ‘Thank you.'”

Lost for words, an emotional Marius manages: “You’re welcome.”

And with tears now running down both their faces, Nick whispers to him: “Thank you so much.”

‘Tears come’

Later, Marius recalls learning the transplant had worked – and the patient survived.

“After that information, only the tears come,” he says.

“I was on the way to my work and I had to park my car and get out and need fresh air – tears came out.”

Then, Marius reveals he had previously tried to kill himself and how – in a way – Nick had helped save him.

“I struggled my whole life since I was 13 with mental issues,” he says.

“It’s [been] hard for me to find my way in life – and my sense in life.

“[Now,] I can say, ‘I did something right.'”

And with the same blood running through their veins, the two strangers are now planning to remain in touch as “blood brothers”.

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