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.
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.
“My two sons are adults but they took it real hard. I think they were afraid they were going to lose their father.” A.S. recalls those horrific days when he learned that he would be battling cancer for the second time. “My wife is a librarian. She did what comes naturally to her and researched the disease. And panicked. There were so many possible outcomes and a lot of them …not good. But she was there at my side, terror and all. Continue reading Never Give Up Hope
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
“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.”
He was eight years old. Third grade is a time for small boys to learn multiplication tables in the classroom and how to pitch a ball in the schoolyard. But Naftali* had learned neither of these. Instead he learned about IV’s and scary hospital equipment, about hair falling out and about roommates who ‘disappeared’ never to return. Naftali had cancer. The medical staff called his parents in for a meeting. There was only one recourse left: a bone marrow transplant. It would save his life but a genetic match would have to be found soon or… it may be too late. Jews will genetically match other Jews and so Ezer Mizion was contacted. Ezer Mizion’s registry with close to a million potential donors is the largest Jewish registry in the world, but, for Naftali, it was not large enough. There was no match. Continue reading L’chaim! To Life
“Good morning. Is this Mr. Hyman? I’m calling from the bone marrow registry. You have been found to be a match for a cancer patient!”
I was sitting in my office when I received that call. I had been tested sometime around 1998 and had not thought about that day in years. Then, quite literally, out of the blue, I was asked if I would be willing to go through further testing to confirm that I was a match for “the patient.”
My response was simple: tell me what to do!! The caller from the registry went through some basic info and made sure to tell me that while the procedure for me as a potential stem cell donor, was safe, it was still my choice and “are you sure you want to go through this process?” Continue reading So You Got A Call To Be A Stem Cell Donor?
“His face lit up” – a phrase so often found in stories of someone who received something he never expected. What does it mean? How does a face light up? Surely it is the spirit inside him that is generating the electricity.
If that is the case, then joy would be the prescription to raise the spirits of those demoralized by serious illness. Rx: fun. Happiness and chemo working in tandem. Body and spirit together engaged in the battle for life.
Ezer Mizion’s Cancer Support Division incorporates this truism into its Battle Plan with fun days for mothers, trips for kids, birthday parties, make-a-wish outings and so much more.
Harel was a case-in-point. Close to his father, the two enjoyed doing things together. One of his father’s favorites was running. Feeling the wind, the rush of adrenalin, the flush of reaching the finish line. Pure joy. And sharing it together was the icing on the cake.
The Annual Petach Tikva Run was scheduled. His father was one of the first sign up. But this time, there’d be no young son beside him, sharing the elation. Harel longed to be there. Oh, how he longed to be there. But a monster had taken over his life in the form of an illness, curable only with a bone marrow transplant. The transplant had taken place recently and Harel was beginning to mend. But running? Out of the question!
Out of the question but feelings don’t ask questions. They just feel. And Harel was feeling miserable. An emotion not very conducive to strengthening his body.
Enter Yumi, one of the most beloved members of the Cancer Support team. Yumi never sees ‘no’. He just sees ‘how’. How can it be made possible for Harel to join the race together with his father? Nothing is simple when it comes to a transplant. But Yumi is used to that. He met with Harel’s father. Tossed out possible plans. Brought the plans to a meeting with physicians. Changed, refined, re-did. Met with the race organizers. Back to the physicians. And soon. There it was. A real plan. One that he hoped would work.
The day arrived and there is Yumi. As excited as Harel and his father. Video camera on hand, recording every moment. Cheering, cheering, cheering! The lanes are filled with runners. And there is Harel’s father also running, pushing a wheelchair in front of him. Grinning behind his face mask sits Harel absorbing the excitement in the air. They’re almost there. The finish line is in sight. They stop and Harel exits the wheelchair, stands behind it and begins to push. The wheelchair supports him. His father’s shouts support him. And Yumi’s continued cheering supports him. There he is crossing the finish line with the rest of them. Way to go, Harel!
Keep running, young man. Keep running until you reach the finish line, until you reach perfect health and can do all the things you long to do. We’re all behind you, cheering you on, Harel. Keep running!