There he was, speaking with enthusiasm, with confidence in front of several hundred people. A newly minted adult Jew in his pristine Bar Mitzvah clothing, chosen with such care for this very special occasion. Flanked by his father and grandfather, he was too involved to notice the tears in their eyes as they remembered. Scenes from his babyhood flashed through their minds and enhanced the significance of this momentous evening a thousand fold. His father thought of the day he was born when he first heard the shouts, “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” His joy was boundless. Avichai’s grandfather recalled how he would stop by the house every day on his way to work just to see Avichai. “He’s my pal. He makes my day!” And they recalled the day their world fell apart. When their precious Avichai was diagnosed with leukemia. The baby’s uncle was Dr. Jerry Stein, the director of the Bone Marrow Unit at Schneiders, a major hospital in Israel. His professional knowledge did not allow for any rosy dreams. He knew that 50% of these patients die. “My heart fell out of my chest when I heard the news!”
Will a stem cell transplant donor be found?
The only hope was Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Registry, the largest Jewish registry worldwide. A stem cell transplant was needed to save this young life. Genetic matching between donor and recipient is vital for success. A search was performed. The computer raced through hundreds of thousands of names. The staff held their collective breath. The family sat glued to the phone immersed in the timeless words of Tehillim (Psalms). Would the response be the ominous words: No Match Found, a virtual death sentence? Or would there miraculously be a genetic match? From the millions of Jews that inhabit the earth, would there exist a near perfect DNA match? Would he be among those registered in the Registry? A click, a bing. A sound barely heard in the busy office. The computer had stopped at a file. His name was Ziv. His parents had named him Ziv which means light, because he had brought light into their world. And now he was about to do the same for Avichai’s family.
“Would you be willing to donate to save a little boy’s life?” he was asked. The question hardly made any sense to him. “What is the question? Of course, I would donate.”
A year later, the two families met. The little boy, now a healthy, mischievous two-year-old, handed Ziv a present, a Chanukah menorah, a candelabrum of light, and gave his new friend a hug. The atmosphere was electric with unspoken words. Avichai would live!
His family rubbed their eyes. The audience of hundreds were listening intently. Many knew his story. Was this a dream? No, it is real. Avichai has become a man. A Bar Mitzvah bochur (young man). He would grow and mature. He would marry and raise a family who would, in turn, raise their own families… generations…eternity.
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 stem cell 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.