One year. Two lives. Two members of the same family each saved a life by donating stem cells. Now they are waiting for their younger sister to be called to complete the circle.
Yael (23) was the first to donate. She was told that a man with leukemia needs a transplant. “It’s his only chance to survive and i am the only one in the world who can donate since I am a genetic match to him. Can you imagine how that made me feel?! What an opportunity! Most people can go through a lifetime without having such an opportunity. I was thrilled.
“Talya from Ezer Mizion walked me through the process and took care of every detail. Then came the day I was dreaming about – the day my cells would become part of a stranger whom I didn’t know but already felt close to. One day, completely unexpectedly – I was vacationing – Adi from Ezer Mizion sent me a letter from the recipient. There are no words to describe how I felt. It all became so much more real. ”
Hodaya’s wedding was to be in a few days. Her phone didn’t stop ringing. But this time it wasn’t a mazel tov call or even a call from the makeup lady. “I’m calling from Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. I have exciting news for you. (What could be more exciting than my wedding, Hodaya recalled wondering.) A 69 year old lady is in need of a transplant to save her life and you have been found to be a perfect genetic match. Are you willing to donate?”
“Yes! Yes!” she answered trying to make the mental leap from gowns and flowers to IV’s and syringes. “Yes! But can it wait a bit? I really want to do it but you see, I- I-I’m getting married in a few days and…”
“Mazel tov!” said the kindly voice on the phone. “Call me when you’re feeling up to it after the wedding.”
If Hodaya thought her head was awhirl before the call, it was now spinning out of control. What an opportunity! To save a life! She couldn’t wait to share the news with her husband-to-be. And so it was almost immediately after the wedding, during the week of sheva brochos (celebration week), accompanied by her new husband, she began the procedure that was to save the life of Ilana. Within one week, Hodaya began the creation of a new Jewish home and the re-creation of an elderly Jewish woman.
Yes, the transplant was a success and a year later, as per international regulations, they met for the very first time. Amid hugs and kisses, the two cried with Ilana pouring forth words of gratitude for the gift she had received from a bride.
Ezer Mizion’s annual Golf and Tennis Tournament was held at the pristine Seawane Country Club. Sunshine pervaded the green as the players teed off, elevated by the knowledge that each stroke was a strike against cancer.
The event entitled Swing for Life serves to benefit Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Registry. For many cancer patients, a bone marrow transplant is their only chance to survive. Genetic matching between donor and patient is essential for success and, since genetics is based on ethnicity, Jewish donors are needed for Jewish patients. Ezer Mizion is the largest Jewish registry in the world and has saved 3980 lives, 390 in 2020 alone. However, too many requests are not yet met and it is vital that the registry be enlarged. All proceeds of the event will fund the expensive genetic testing of many more potential donors, thus greatly increasing the chances of each request being met with a positive response.
Manny Malekan and Simmie Chiger, Committee Chairs, were thrilled to have the event completely sold out. They were ably assisted the hard-working committee: Dr. Aaron Cynamon, Alex Dembitzer, David Neiss, Dr. David Ritholtz, Dr. Alan Spiegel, Sruli Szpigiel, Jordan Chiger, Zachary Chiger, Jonathon Halpert , Eytan Feldman, Michael Pfeiffer, Dovid Schulman and Jeremy Wulwick. Each member felt the pride of being part of ‘something big’. The Ezer Mizion ‘Hole in One’ Donor Pool, funded by golf events held both in the US and Israel, has already saved over 90 lives.
Simmie Chiger shared his story with the guests: how he had recently been in a horrific accident and he thanked Hashem with the words: Perhaps the merit of my helping to save the lives of others enabled my own life to be saved.
The guests were treated to a delectable dinner during which the purpose of the event was further brought home. The attendees met Russell, a young grandfather of three, who thanked Ezer Mizion for enabling him to enjoy watching his grandchildren grow up. In a moving speech, Russell described his feelings when he received his diagnosis. It occurred so unexpectedly as a result of a routine exam. The doctor had said he was in good health, like a man 15 years his junior except for a quirky blood test which was probably a mistake. Well, it wasn’t a mistake. Russell soon found himself confronting a monster named Cancer who had entered uninvited into his idyllic life.
For Russell, there was light at the end of his tunnel. Motti, one of the over 1,000,000 Ezer Mizion registrants, was a perfect genetic match. As Russell was about to leave the stage, he was asked if he would like to meet his donor for the first time. Motti was then brought to the stage where the two embraced as only two brothers can. It was Motti’s blood that now flowed through Russell’s arteries. The two men will forever be intertwined.
Each attendee left the club that evening , knowing that there were many, many ‘Russell’s’ out there- some of them even small children- and he had helped to save Jewish lives.
It was an idea. A good idea. Would it end up by the wayside like so many other ideas?
It was the year 2005 and the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry was seven years old. The registry was growing and had saved many lives by means of a bone marrow transplant but, for too many, the response was No Genetic Match Found: a virtual death sentence. More registrants were needed. Registrants of varied ethnic groups. Young ones. Young cells have been proven to be much more successful and, in addition, the high cost of genetic testing would be offset by the potential donor remaining on the database for decades.
The IDF was the obvious choice but would they agree to offer each new recruit the option of signing up for the registry? There were many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome and the idea never would have seen the light of day without the help of MK Elazar Stern, then Director of Manpower in the IDF. His gargantuan efforts bore fruit and the momentous IDF-Ezer Mizion agreement was signed. Almost immediately the numbers began to skyrocket and, to date, 2,625 lives have been saved by those who registered upon recruitment.
Can you imagine, then, the grin of delight on the face of a registry staff member as she searched for a match for the latest request and came up with the name: Amichai Stern!
Amchai (26), son of Elezar Stern, lives in Belgium and the registry tried unsuccessfully to reach him. Timing is vital for a cancer patient and it was decided to call his father.
“I was in the Knesset when a call came in,” Elazar Stern recalls. “They asked if I was Amichai’s father. When I confirmed that I was, they gave me the basic information and asked if I wanted to contact him. Boy, did I! It was one of the most exciting calls of my life. Right then and there, I called my son and everyone in the office heard his excited ‘Wow!!! You mean I can save someone’s life?!!!!!!!!!’ He was thrilled and so am I, of course. It is a great privilege. It is a dream to be a match. A tremendous joy.”
Amichai is at the beginning of the process and, in his words, “I will do everything I can to ensure that this will work, even if it requires my returning to Israel. Life is a supreme value.”
We pray that the bone marrow transplant will go smoothly and the patient will receive the ultimate gift – the gift of a future. If they both agree, in a year’s time, they will meet. Amichai’s father will join the much anticipated event as will other family members of each side. Tears will flow. Hugs will be exchanged and the circle to save lives begun sixteen years ago will then be complete.
To the amazing people at Ezer Mizion and to all the generous friends from abroad who help support this wonderful organization!
We’ve known each other for quite a while. You met me for the first time two years ago, at the entrance to the Oncology Ward, just hours after I’d gotten the horrible results that brought the world crashing down on me, the moment that I went from being an active young Yeshiva man, involved in all the community affairs, to being an invalid, needing tons of help every day… The pains were intense, especially in my right leg, where the tumor had been found. But since I am a person who likes to be practical, I didn’t allow myself to cry even a minute. I immediately took my wife aside and told her: “We’re setting out on a battle for life, and we’re going to give it the best we can. This is our time to accept help, and we will accept help from anyone who’s willing to give it.” At that precise moment, you appeared in front of us and offered help in a variety of areas. We needed everything you offered: medical counsel, support, help with the children, hot meals, , hosting at your fantastic cancer patient hostel, the fun days and activities that you organized, and most of all empathy… For a long period, you were our closest family. Our children regarded you as “good uncles” and so did we. I cannot even imagine how we would have gotten through this time without you. Having you at our side gave us so much strength!!!
After a few series of chemo and radiation, the doctors came to the conclusion that the only option was a stem cell transplant. Again you were there at the front lines of the campaign to find a donor, and every time I was on the verge of despair, you came and gave me the strength to keep fighting. I am certain that it was your iron will and determination that stood before Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d) and pleaded that a stem cell donor should be found.
A year ago, I underwent the transplant. When I got the clean test results, I recited “Nishmas” (a prayer of gratitude toward our Creator) with tremendous emotion and promised Hashem that from this day on, my family and I are your partners, from the giving end.
When you asked me to come speak at some event you were making for donors, I willingly agreed. I came with my wife and told them everything I’d gone through as a patient and everything that you represent for me. I described how every shekel that comes into your hands turns into an act of chessed. Then the emcee asked me if I know the donor who gave me the stem cells. When I answered in the negative, he asked if I would be interested in meeting him. As I was still nodding my head, the tears filling my eyes, the emcee called my donor up to the podium. I cannot describe in mere words how I felt at that chilling moment. There are things you can understand only after you feel them. And I hope that you will never feel what I felt. From that second, the marvelous donor joined my family.
Words cannot express my gratitude for everything you’ve done for me