A TWELVE-year-old girl has been dubbed a hero after coming to the rescue of her soldier brother in the hardest battle he has had to fight - against leukaemia.

Royal Engineer Lee Robson, 24, was diagnosed with leukaemia last year. After four courses of chemotherapy, doctors decided his best hope of survival would be a bone marrow transplant.

All four of his sisters - Shauna, 26, Emma, 21, Lucy, 16 and Rebecca, aged 11 at the time - volunteered to be tested.

Both Rebecca and Shauna came back as a good match, but Shauna was pregnant and unable to undergo the operation, so Rebecca stepped in.

The life-saving transplant took place last October in the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, and, after overcoming some serious complications, Lee is now making a good recovery at his home in Leadgate, near Consett, County Durham.

Yesterday, he praised Rebecca for her bravery.

"I think she's been brilliant. It didn't phase her at all - she took it all in her stride," he said.

Despite her age, Rebecca gave the full amount of bone marrow that an adult donor would give - three times the level normally taken from a child.

"I knew what it was all about and didn't have to think twice about it," she said.

"He is my brother - so I could hardly say no!"

She had to take a month off school before the transplant took place in October 2002, to make sure she didn't pick up any illness or infection from other pupils that could be passed on to her brother through her marrow.

Lee's cancer struck in January last year, shortly after winning the Royal Engineers' Craftsman of the Year award for work as a fitting machinist.

He became ill after returning to his barracks in Kent, following a tour of duty in Kenya with 61 Field Support Squadron, which is now in Kuwait.

A trip to the doctor's for a blood test confirmed the worst and he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in February last year.

Even his chemotherapy proved potentially life-threatening when the central line plugged into his chest to administer the drugs caused several potentially fatal infections.

He had to undergo a further demanding treatment before the operation - a course of drugs to kill off what was left of his immune system and prepare his body for the transplant had nasty side effects.

Even after the operation, he faced further battles as his body tried to reject the new marrow.

"The hardest thing has been to keep motivated and I have got my family and my girlfriend to thank for that."

His girlfriend, Susan Smith, left her home 310 miles away in Maidstone, Kent, last year, to be with Lee. He has also had visits from his friends in the regiment.

His father, Billy, said: "This has been a really traumatic time for us all. They say these things are sent to test you and, by God, it did."

Lee stepped forward to tell his story to mark the launch of a nation-wide campaign by the National Blood Service (NBS) yesterday, aiming to thank donors across the UK for their life-saving work.

"I really am grateful for all my family's support and my girlfriend, and the staff at the hospital. It was them that got me through this," he said.

The campaign will also encourage people to become bone marrow donors.

* For details on becoming a bone marrow or blood donor, contact the NBS helpline on 08457 711711 or visit the website, at www.blood.co.uk