A Blackburn woman who beat leukaemia after being given her sister's immune system through a pioneering technique today thanked her for the gift of life.

Christine O'Toole, 39, said she was looking forward to spending Christmas with her three children after her life was saved by sister Susan Bradley.

Christine, who lives in Greenfield Avenue, Blackburn, received stem cells from Susan's healthy immune system, which allowed her to fight the deadly disease.

Her world was turned upside down last July when she was diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, which attacks the immune system and would have killed her within a year.

She was told there was a one-in-four chance one of her three brothers and two sisters would have the right genetic make-up to give her their stem cells.

Luckily 45-year-old Susan, who also lives in Greenside Avenue, provided a match this time last year.

She had to give up medication for her arthritis and underwent a four-hour session to extract the cells.

Then about half-a-pint of the cells were pumped into Christine's body - in just 10 minutes.

At her Greenside Avenue, Blackburn home, surrounded by pictures of her children, a fit and well Christine said: "It is incredible. She has saved my life. The hospital gave me an 80 per cent chance of survival and if I get past five years they say it will be like I never had leukaemia. I am so grateful.

"It is like I am a newborn baby.

"Any one of my brothers and sisters would have done it. I was confident my family would back me 100 per cent. We are a close family."

Now the care she received from The Christie Hospital, Manchester has touched her seven-year-old son, Owen, who has raised more than £1,000 for its services.

She still has a get well soon card from her sister after the procedure which reads: "All the best and thinking of you".

A thankful Susan, who also lives in Greenside Drive, said: "When Christine said she had leukaemia it just didn't hit me. Our dad was in hospital at the time so we were all all over the place.

"We all had to go for blood tests and I kept thinking I hope it's not me!' because I don't like needles.

"But I am glad I did it. It is a good thing. My uncle died of leukaemia 16 years ago and probably wouldn't have the option of stem cells."

The stem cell transplant procedure has been used at Christies since the early 1990s and is given to about 12 people a year.

The cells are found in the bone marrow, the spongy substance in the centre of most bones which produce life-sustaining blood cells.

In the past the entire marrow was transplanted, but the new technique just extracts the stem cells. This is only used because of preference by the donor or if doctors are unable to extract enough stem cells from them.

Stem cells are cells at an early stage of development which can be turned into other types of cells.

In Christine's case the new stem cells replaced all the white blood cells in her body.

Her consultant, Dr Effie Liakopoulou, said: "It saved her life. She would have had month to live without it. If her sister had not been there we would have had to find an unrelated donor which is rare. Most cancer patients don't have a sibling donor."

She said: "Only a few units in the UK and around the world can do this kind of procedure.

"Chemotherapy most of the time is not curative. Using stem cells improves survival by minimising the toxicity in the short term and side effects in the long term. Those are the major causes of death."

Christine, a social worker for Bolton Council, had to endure a traumatic period after the procedure in November.

Less than a month after she was given the cells Christine suffered a seizure and was rushed back to Christies.

Here she was diagnosed with graft-vs-host disease, a condition where the new cells attack the body.

This is because the cells regard its new host as a foreign body to be attacked like any other infection.

The disease affected her kidneys, liver, bowel and lungs and meant she had to stay in Christies until March.