A desperate search by two fathers for bone marrow donors for their children has led to life-saving transplants for more than 1,000 people with leukaemia.

A desperate search by two fathers for bone marrow donors for their children has led to life-saving transplants for more than 1,000 people with leukaemia.

And yesterday, at the 10th anniversary gathering of the British Bone Marrow Donor Appeal in Cardiff, some of the men and women whose lives have been saved met the total strangers who helped them survive the disease.

Dominic Hurford, 23, grasping the hands of his donor, Karen Allins, 39, said: "For seven years I have lived with the realisation that but for her I would not be here today. I've always wanted to say thank you and now I can.''

William Andrews, whose donation saved the life of a nine-month-old baby, was present, as was Robert Medcraft, 26, who has twice given his bone marrow to save the life of a Frenchwoman he has never met.

Because of medical confidentiality, which lasts two years, most of the recipients of the bone marrow transplants will never know who their donor was. But Mr Hurford, a medical student, chose to try and seek out his donor, which resulted in his meeting with her yesterday.

The remarkable story of the British Bone Marrow Donor Appeal began when two fathers, both of whose children were suffering from leukaemia, met by chance in a London pub.

John Humphries, then European bureau chief for Thomson Newspapers in Brussels, had already launched his own search for a suitable bone marrow donor for his son, Mark. Malcolm Thomas had begun a similar search for his daughter, Alexandra.

Mr Humphries said: "I'd been looking everywhere, South Africa, America - you name it, we had been knocking on their door - but it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It was a very frustrating time."

To try and find matches, the men set out to recruit 100,000 donors in six weeks and, against all the odds, they did just that, with the help of Woolworths, who distributed volunteering forms; companies who provided transport and other equipment; and doctors, from across the country, who collected the blood samples from would-be volunteers.

Having collected 100,000 donors, the two fathers looked for matches for their children but failed to find any. Alexandra died, aged 10. But although no match was found for Mark, now 39, he survived thanks to intensive chemotherapy.

Just how big an impact the little-known charity has had on the treatment of leukaemia in Britain is only just emerging. More than 1,000 people have now had transplants as a result of finding matches on the registry, put together and paid for by the charity set up by the two fathers.

Some donors like Nigel Hooper, a banker, have saved more than one life.

Mr Hooper has now met one of the recipients, Michael Parker, aged nine, and says that having seen the boy he can't refuse anyone else he matches with.

He said: "When you look at Michael who is now so healthy, how can you possibly refuse to donate?"

The registry pioneered by the two fathers is now one of the biggest and is used by countries around the world.

Despite the billions being poured into the NHS, the appeal, like other bone marrow charities, receives no government funding for its life-saving work.

Mr Humphries said: "We've been described as one of Britain's best-kept secrets and it has all been done without any money from government.

"It is high time the Government provided the NHS with funding to recruit and test donors, as well as maintain the registries. The charity will this year fund the recruitment of 10,000 new donors at a cost of £300,000."