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.
It was my birthday and I knew just what I wanted. When I was a little kid, I had some birthday requests that were so out of line that even i understood they were just dreams. Like the time I wanted a horse (We were living in an apartment building.) Now as an adult about to turn 40, my birthday dream seemed just as unattainable. What was it? : A gift of giving, It’s what Ezer Mizion calls a Personalized Donor Pool – a group of potential bone marrow registrants who stand ready to save the lives of cancer patients. My own group whose genetic testing I would be responsible for. Whenever one of them would be found to be a match for a cancer patient and donate his stem cells, I would receive a call with the electrifying words: You have saved a life. What a gift! Every month, I would read the list of names of those whose pools had saved one, sometimes two, lives and I’d think, “Why not me?!”
And so I began working on my birthday gift. I drove everyone crazy. There were hundreds of messages on my facebook page focusing only on this. My whole family was caught up. Even my kids were involved answering phones all night. It was a matter of raising a large sum of money and some of my friends teased me with comments like, ‘Dream on…’ but some of my friends responded more encouragingly and joined in to help me. And as the numbers climbed up, more and more changed their minds and decided to join what seemed to be a winning team. The final numbers (for this year- remember,I have another birthday coming up next year…):
728 people who donated a total of $40,000+ that sponsored 716 new registry members!
Recently our donor pool was launched. My husband and I came for a tour of Ezer Mizion’s cancer support facility in Petah Tikvah. We got home an hour ago and the tears don’t stop flowing. If I only could show all of you what this place looks like! It’s an entire world of chessed, What they do for the patients! To walk into the Registry and see a soldier who was found to be a match for a patient sitting there, waiting to donate, to give life to another human being. Many of them. All spending hours of their time just so someone they never met could have a future.
What’s the best birthday present you ever received? I’ll tell you what mine was, says Noy Arielli. It was an opportunity. An opportunity to give to someone I didn’t even know. An opportunity to save the life of another Jew. My Rabbi had said that a birthday is a time to celebrate being alive and to use the day to give to others. So you can imagine how grateful I felt when the opportunity to do just that fell into my lap. A bit before I had received a call from Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. I had completely forgotten about my having registered with them about 8 years ago. But they didn’t forget. They keep people on the database for decades in the hope that someday they will be found to be a genetic match for a cancer patient whose sole chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant. When an oncology clinic calls – it may be from any part of the world – it’s important that a match be found soon. You see, a cancer patient can’t wait. Ezer Mizion is the largest Jewish registry in the world and has over a million potential donors. Well, the computers began their search. I can imagine the tension in the room as the little circle went round and round. And then click! My name lit up. From all those million files, it was my DNA that matched. They were still nervous, they told me later. Maybe the donor is too involved in a new job or is on vacation or is expecting a baby or maybe she’ll just plain back out.
The ring on my phone was like that of any other call. I didn’t know it was my birthday present on the line. When they asked me, I nearly shouted, “Yes! Of course I’ll do it.” The questions came afterwards. I needed information but there was no doubt in my mind that i would do it. I already felt a connection to the recipient. Him? Her? A child? A grandmother? It didn’t matter. When my birthday came, I sat there for several hours, just smiling with happiness. I was really saving a life!
Of course, my role was only part off the story, a third of what Ezer Mizion calls the Triangle of Life. Before that, funds had to be raised to pay for the genetic testing of new registrants. That came from all of you out there who donate so generously, sometimes in highly unusual ways. Like the employees of the Israeli high-tech company, Syna Media. They got together and voted on each one donating a day of his vacation to Ezer Mizion. This donation culminated in an astounding sum of 200,000 Shekels to Ezer Mizion’s bone marrow registry. This amount will be used towards swabbing 555 potential stem cell donors who will be added to the constantly expanding registry. Some of those will one day be the lucky ones and receive the same call I did.. all because the Syna Media people gave up one day of their vacations. Pretty special, wouldn’t you say?
Two adorable twins. Too young to understand numbers and question why the ‘two’ doesn’t match their actual age. When they mature perhaps Mommy will explain that this was a party celebrating another birthday. It had been two years since Yarden. had received her life-saving bone marrow transplant. No family member was a genetic match and her parents had been forced to look elsewhere, somewhere, around the globe, for someone whose DNA matched their precious child. We cannot imagine the tension, the fear, the prayers that filled their home until one morning, the phone rang. “I’m calling from Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. I have wonderful news…” Life hasn’t been easy for the twins. They were born together but have been apart for so much of their life what with Yarden in and out of hospitals. May they now spend the rest of their lives together, enjoying each other’s company in perfect health.
Lieutenant T. just received his Pilot Wings and yes, he is quite proud. At the young age of 23, he has accomplished even much more. Lieutenant T. has saved a life. During the course, he was called out by the Division Officer. “Did I do something wrong?” His mind was in a turmoil with all sorts of negative scenarios running through his head until the officer smiled at him saying, “Ezer Mizion would like to speak with you. It seems that you are a possible genetic match for a leukemia patient.”
“What an about face! Suddenly I was a potential hero!”
“It turned out I was a great match for a lady with cancer. I checked it out with my parents. After all, it was a big step. They were 100% on board and excited that I had been given this opportunity. And so the light turned green and it was all systems go. I took off a few days to have the injections that they give you to increase the stem cells in your blood. And then came the big day. Perfectly comfortable with reading material and visitors, to occupy me as blood was removed via one arm, stem cells separated and blood then returned to me via the other arm. It took several hours but was painless and I felt fine. It is definitely a great privilege to take part in such a process.
Anyone who is contemplating donating should know that it’s simple. Nothing to worry about. Within a day or so, you’ll be back at work and soon will have forgotten all about it. But I can tell you from experience that on the other side, no one is forgetting anything. They’re ecstatic with joy as your stem cells seep into your patient’s bloodstream. And they never forget. Not days later, not weeks later, not even years later.
About a year after the transplant, when it was legal to do so, I received a letter from a lady in America. She introduced herself as the one who received my stem cells. She said she is in her fifties and has three kids. She had had leukemia and needed that transplant to stay alive. I couldn’t believe what I had accomplished! Just minimal discomfort on my side but for Nancy. I had given her back her life.
She invited me to come visit her in the US and I invited her to visit me in Israel. So far, neither has happened but we both hope someday… Meanwhile, we’re getting to know each other via email. My message today is unequivocal: Give! Donate! There are so many still waiting in line. Subsidizing the cost of the genetic testing or getting tested yourself or both. It’s such an infinitesimal effort, compared to what you are granting them.
Because of your generosity, Ezer Mizion, world’s largest Jewish registry, has reached the MILLION MARK! What does that mean? The success of a bone marrow transplant is dependent on the genetic match between donor and recipient. With Israel’s wide range of ethnic groups, many of them IDF recruits, we have succeeded in amassing a registry of ONE MILLION potential donors. These registrants are of highly varied genetic makeup so that when a cancer patient is in need of a bone marrow transplant, the chances of finding a DNA match in time, before it’s too late, are very good! However, there are still many who wait in hope and prayer for the match that will mean LIFE and we will not stop enlarging the registry until until every single request received from any part of the world can be answered with a triumphant, YES! WE HAVE A MATCH!
Flying 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean is not an easy job! Ofer had already spent 17 years as a fighter pilot in the IDF. In 2003 he left the reserves and joined El-Al full time. “Most people don’t realize that being a pilot is a very dangerous profession. When you know it is dangerous, you are safe but when you think it is easy, when you’re a cowboy, you are unsafe! A pilot’s job is to always be alert in case something happens.” Ofer always remained alert with hundreds of travelers under his wing, quite literally!Continue reading Flying High
Utter shock. That’s what I felt sitting there in the doctor’s office. It was a busy time for me. I’m a lawyer and I was in the middle of trying a complex murder case. But it was time for my annual physical and, feeling virtuous and responsible, I took time off to have it done even though I had zero symptoms. Then the doctor asked me to sit down. Something in his serious tone of voice told me I would not be getting back to my murder case too quickly. Continue reading But I Feel Fine
Everyone knows that the number of cancer patients has skyrocketed. Studies give us numbers but it’s hard to empathize with a number. So let’s meet some of the people behind the numbers. Like J.G.. He’s young with two kids, aged 5 and 7. He works as a massage therapist and personal trainer. But for a long period, he wasn’t able to work at all. Actually that’s not true. He was working very hard to remain positive during his stint with chemo. “It was tough,” he says. “The hardest part was being away from my kids. They were living their lives and I couldn’t share it. I just ached for that hug around the knees when I would open the door. I thought that after chemo, I’d be done but the doctors told me I needed a bone marrow transplant. They were not too encouraging as I had an unusual chromosome and they felt it would be difficult to find me a genetic match. So here i was, a father of 2 small kids and being told that I probably will not be here to watch them grow up. Well, let me tell you, Ezer Mizion found me not one match but 4. I try to give back to others now but it can never be enough to pay back Ezer Mizion for what they did for me.”
R.S. is a middle-aged, upbeat lady with a bouncy personality. “Who, me?” she thought to herself when her doctor sent her to a hematologist. She had come in for a routine physical and her blood count was a bit high. Her daughter-in-law, who is a physician, later said she never would have sent a patient to a hematologist for such a low count but Rita is eternally grateful that her doctor was the cautious type.
Things began to heat up at this point with test after test and each doctor looking more serious. It was lymphoma. Rita was devastated. “My heart was pounding as each test was done. I calmed down when the team presented a plan for me. It made me feel secure and they assured me that things looked good. Facing the unknown was so hard. I made a conscious decision not to fall apart. I tried to think only about what I had to do, not get emotional over the future. I would tell anyone newly diagnosed- Stay focused, Take it one day at a time. Be proactive and check out a/t that looks questionable. If you live in a small town, don’t be satisfied with the medical care available. Seek out the best even if you have to relocate temporarily. And, above all, don’t give up.”
S.P. was diagnosed in 1998 and given 10-15 years to live. He had three kids ranging from two to nine. Even the oldest was not told what is going on. They just knew that their father wasn’t feeling well sometimes. “Boy, was that an understatement. The side effects of the meds were horrendous, including depression and suicide tendencies. I found out later that most people on these meds take disability but I’m the type that doesn’t give up so I kept on working. This treatment wasn’t given until many years later, in 2014. By this time, I was newly remarried and my kids were adults, not getting along very well with their stepmother. There I was, lying there helpless and having to listen to the people I loved most argue with each other regarding my medical decisions. Not fun. But things are great now. I had my transplant. I’m much stronger and my family has gelled. We’re all on the same page.
I used to be very involved in sports. Those days are gone for now but I have a new hobby. I’ve discovered painting. I find creating watercolor designs to be very satisfying. And the results are quite good if I do say so myself.”
Three real people. Three real people who were floating through life until they reached a bump in the road. They could be your neighbors. Or your cousin’s neighbors. Stay tuned till next week when we will meet with more.
What is a good day? Many people would say that a good day is when everything you planned works. No hitches. No slip-ups. And what does one do when there are hitches? Get frustrated, of course. Rant and rave. Find someone to blame. Typical, right? Very human.