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 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
May Hashem repay you with health and nachas.
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.Continue reading They Said It Will Never Happen
“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.