Thank you” - they were the two words that eight-year old Jake Larkin travelled almost 4,000 miles to Market Harborough to say.
“Ah, it’s a pleasure - you don’t have to thank me” replied Welland Park Academy teacher Jane Theobald.
The two met in the town this week, three years after a remarkable one-in-a-billion coincidence meant that Mrs Theobald’s bone marrow was a perfect match for Jake, then a very sick boy in the Children’s Hospital in Wisconsin, USA.
Mrs Theobald (59) had gone on the bone marrow register 30 years ago, and heard nothing for 27 years.
But suddenly, in 2012, she was “called up” to donate to Jake, who was suffering from aplastic anaemia and desperate for a donor.
Now the Larkin family and the Theobald family are friends, after spending time together this week in south Leicestershire.
Jake has made a complete recovery, with one little quirk - his DNA is now more similar to Mrs Theobald’s than his own family’s.
Mrs Theobald, head of Years 8 and 9 at the school, said: “I just gave some bone marrow. It was easy for me. But meeting the family makes it so much more real, and I do feel very emotional now - although I can’t quite explain why.”
Jake’s mother Kimberly Cluff also admitted to feeling emotional as she recalled: “It really was life or death.
“But Jane was a perfect match for Jake, and now he’s completely cured, and he’s going to die as an old man.”
As for Jake, slightly shy as TV, radio and newspapers recorded the happy meeting, he said that before the transplant he was in a hospital bed, “with a big pole attached”.
And now? “I feel free - much more free”.
Both the Larkin and the Theobald families visited Welland Park Academy on Monday to take part in a “very, very special” assembly.
Pupils were enthralled as Mrs Theobald explained how a remarkable, random match meant she could save the life of a desperately ill young boy in America.
“I didn’t know where my bone marrow was going at the time” said Mrs Theobald. “It’s all anonymous. It wasn’t until last year I heard from Jake’s family.”
She said the two families had enjoyed “a lovely weekend, getting to know each other”.
She also urged the pupils to go on the register themselves when they were 16.
“It’s not difficult, it’s not painful - and it could save someone’s life.”
Jake’s lawyer mum Kimberly Cluff , close to tears, told the children “We just wanted to say thank you to Jane and all her family, because you’re part of our family now”.
Jake’s dad Bob Larkin, an artist, and Jake’s sister Catie Jo (11) had also travelled to Market Harborough.
They also met Mrs Theobald’s husband Phil and the couple’s children Graham and Esther.
Kimberly Cluff summed up: “Sometimes help doesn’t come from friends and family. Sometimes it comes from a stranger all the way across an ocean.
“We found two matching snowflakes in a storm. We felt it was so important to acknowledge that.”