“From today, you are a part of us. Osher, you are our “osher,” our joy”
With these moving words, Yossie Ben-Chamu (66) from Jerusalem addressed Osher Ankonina (40) from Teverya, the stem cell donor who saved his life.
Right in the middle of Chanukah, a thrilling encounter took place between the two at Oranit. After a difficult period of illness, Ben-Chamu was told that only a bone marrow transplant could save his life. After an auto-transplant was unsuccessful, Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Donor Registry came into the picture, and a matching donor was found for him — Osher.
The transplant brought to an end a long and grueling period of treatments. To the exciting meeting between the two, Ben Chamu brought a gift — a Chanukah menorah designed according to the Djerba tradition. Ankonina immediately identified the traditional menorah, since his family is from the same ethnic background. “I am standing here, opposite you, an open miracle, all thanks to you, baruch Hashem. You gave me hope and life,” said Ben Chamu tearfully.
“The meetings between donor and recipient carry great importance for the patient, too, but primarily for the donor,” says Dr. Bracha Zisser, director of Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Donor Registry and Oranit.
“For the patient, the meeting is a chance to say “thank you” for the gift of life that was given to him. But for the donor, it has even greater significance: He gets to see the one whom he saved and understand the meaning of his donation. Many times, people say regarding a stem cell transplant, “Whoever saves one Jewish life, it is as if he saved an entire world.” But the transplant does not only save one Jewish life; it saves the lives of all the patient’s relatives — his children, parents, friends — entire worlds whose lives were saved, thanks to the donation.”
Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Donor Registry is the fifth largest in the world, numbering 1,052,113 potential donors. So far, 3,801 lifesaving transplants have taken place, among them, 43 transplants that were done just this past month.
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?
BONE MARROW DONOR REGISTRY ACTIVITY SUMMARY
In September 2020:
27 transplants, 23 of these from donor pools
3,724 total transplants
10,033 new members this month
1,045,002 total members in registry
Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Slovenia, UK, USA
Donor Pool Countries
Brazil, Israel, Mexico, UK, USA
September 2020 – BONE MARROW DONOR REGISTRY ACTIVITY SUMMARY
In August 2020:
33 transplants, 29 of these from donor pools
3,697 total transplants
Australia, Austria, Chile, Germany, Greece, Israel, Poland, UK, USA
Donor Pool Countries
Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, UK, USAContinue reading Because of You!
“It all started with a government contract in 2013 that required a complex background check, including detailed physical exam. I am the owner of commercial cleaning company”, says RK. “Of course, I wanted to dot every ‘i’ on this very lucrative deal. The physical was a bit of a problem since my doctor was not available. So I went to the sub who refused to fill out the form without an exam. I noticed the doctor becoming agitated as he listened to my heart. Well, there was good reason for his agitation. It turned out that I had a heart condition that required open heart surgery. Pretty scary to think this never would have been discovered if I hadn’t received that contract. Halfway through the post-surgery recovery period, I began feeling chest pains. My heart was checked and found to be fine but my blood was not. What’s going on, I thought to myself. In April the blood work had been fine, now in July suddenly not? So there in the midst of recovering from open heart surgery, I was found to have AML. Isn’t there some rule about not hitting a guy when he’s down? Later on, I was told that I probably had had leukemia for a while but it was held in check. The open heart surgery most likely caused it to develop and spread.
Only a stem cell transplant could save me. Thank G-d, Ezer Mizion found a match for me. The cells would be transported from Israel to my hospital in Chicago. Just one problem. There was a major snowstorm in Chicago at the time. If my cells didn’t get here within that small window of time, we’d have to start all over. You can imagine how much I prayed. Well, they made it and I’m fine now and hope to remain so for many years. After the transplant, my blood became AB positive, a type mosquitoes don’t like- a great side benefit. “
PG and his wife are two balls of energy, speaking in front of an audience of hundreds. It wasn’t long ago that there were no jokes, no smiles. P had visited his doctor regarding recurring sinus infections. They were easy to cure but the cancer that was discovered during the comprehensive physical was not. “I needed a bone marrow transplant to survive and things didn’t look good. Well, I have a new brother now. We met recently. It is Yoni’s blood that is now coursing through my veins. That makes him my blood brother, right? We’ve become very close even though he lives in Israel and I live in the US. We try to spend quality time with each other whenever possible. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. After all, he gave me my life.”