7-year-old travels from Luling to London to meet Army private 
who saved her life

Stemcell Donor Robert Brooks-Wardle meets Demi Thibodeaux for the first time.

Shortly after twins Demi and Daelyn Thibodeaux were born in November 2016, Daelyn was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that eventually took her life just one month before her first birthday.

It was Daelyn’s tragic journey that emboldened her parents to get Demi tested for that same disorder, called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). Unfortunately, Demi also had the blood disorder, but her life was saved by a blood stem cell transplant.

Six years later, Demi traveled from Luling to London to meet the man who saved her life.

Robert Brookes-Wardle, a British Army private, was 20 years old when he was contacted by DKMS, the world’s largest blood stem cell donor center. He was informed that he was a match for a baby girl fighting for a second chance at life.

Brookes-Wardle had joined the national blood stem cell registry when he was 18 after hearing about it at one of the blood drives he routinely participated in.

“There was a bit of hesitation; I wasn’t expecting to get matched with Demi, and I didn’t do that much research into the donation process,” Brookes-Wardle said. “So, after DKMS contacted me, I took the weekend to do my research and read stories about people that had donated as well, which all led me to donate.”

Demi received her transplant on March 1, 2018. Her mother, DeeDee Thibodeaux, said Demi’s health is “perfect” today.

“She is monitored by doctors, which is just protocol for anyone that has undergone a stem cell transplant. It’s just routine for her now,” she said. “She was a little warrior from the get-go and is now living a normal 7-year-old life.”

Last month, Demi and her mother traveled to London for DKMS’ London Gala, which was held at The Natural History Museum and even featured famous actor Idris Elba. Demi and Brookes-Wardle were called on stage at the event, where they met for the first time.

“While Demi and I were on stage at the gala, the crowd looked like a blur in anticipation and excitement waiting for Rob to come on stage with us,” Thibodeaux said. “To finally be face to face with the man that selflessly donated his stem cells to Demi, I was in tears. I was thinking this is the hero that gave my little girl a second chance at life!

“Then I couldn’t stop hugging him enough.”

Demi Thibodeaux and her mother Deedee Thibodeaux attend the DKMS London Gala 2024 at The Natural History Museum. Photos for this story courtesy Dave Bennett.

Brookes-Wardle said that embracing Demi and knowing that his blood stem cells had helped save her life was an incredibly profound and emotional experience.

“The gratitude and joy in her eyes made all the sacrifices and procedures worthwhile,” he said.

Thibodeaux said that after meeting Brookes-Wardle in person, and seeing him bond with Demi, it felt like he had been a part of their family his whole life.

“After meeting Rob in person, we talked about how crazy and amazing it is that DKMS gave us this opportunity to meet,” she said.  “We both felt like it was a dream come true.”

DKMS is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancers and other blood-related illnesses by inspiring people around the world to register as blood stem cell donors. The donor journey begins with a simple swab of the cheek which can be the action that leads to a second chance at life for a patient in need.

Additionally, DKMS works closely with patients and their families, from diagnosis to transplant and beyond. Originally founded in Germany in 1991 by Dr. Peter Harf, DKMS has entities in South Africa, Poland, Chile, the United Kingdom, the United States, and India.

The U.S. office was started in 2004.

Globally, DKMS has registered over 12 million people and facilitated over 110,000 transplants. To join the fight against blood cancer or for more information, please go to dkms.org