After months of searching for a suitable bone marrow donor, Lucas Cervone, a multi-racial 5-year-old diagnosed with leukemia for the second time, has finally found a “stranger hero,” with DNA matching his own.
Be The Match, an international bone marrow registry with over 25 million members, had struggled to find an exact ethnic/racial equal for Lucas, whose mother is Honduran and father is of Caucasian descent. Then last week, a donor, whose identity is kept anonymous, surfaced in Germany.
“All we know about him is where he lives. But he’s our mystery savior,” Lucas’ father, Anthony Cervone, tells PEOPLE. “This unknown angel, he is saving our son’s life. Thank you isn’t enough, but it’s all we have.”
At the age of 2, Lucas was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphocytic leukemia, a rare form of childhood cancer, and completed treatments in May 2015. But only three weeks after leaving the hospital, Lucas and his family were told a whole new cancer, T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, had taken over.
“We frankly haven’t seen anything like this before,” attending oncologist at Ann & Robert. H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Dr. Joanna Weinstein tells PEOPLE. “We felt his only curable option at this point was a bone marrow transplant.”
Anthony says he and his wife, Raina, first turned to immediate family for bone marrow donors, but were unable to find a good match.
“We just felt so defeated at first,” he says. “People told us it wasn’t impossible to find a match, and we had to keep telling ourselves that to keep us going. The only thing we could do was pray and we are so lucky that someone answered our prayers!”
Be The Match account manager Melissa Williams says locating exact bone marrow matches for people of multi-racial backgrounds is especially difficult.
“If both parents are Caucasian or both are Hispanic, finding a match is much easier,” Williams tells PEOPLE. “But the more mixed a person is in terms of race and ethnicity, it becomes more and more complicated trying to find a DNA match.”
Lucas, who begins the transplant process next week, is expected to remain in the hospital for a few months as he recovers.
“My son is my world,” Anthony says. “I want to thank our mystery guy for his selflessness, to us it means everything. I hope others of mixed races will follow his lead and register to donate bone marrow. You have no idea how much it could change someone’s life.”