David was five. His parents had despaired of his reaching six… until a fellow Jew gave him a second chance at life. Mr. A., who had never met David, donated his stem cells, thus saving the life of a Jewish child.
“You are his brother,” David’s father wept, as he hugged Mr. A. tightly. There was little else to say to the man whose bone marrow produces the blood in David’s veins. The moment was too poignant; too precious for words. But when words fall short, tears speak volumes.
The meeting was the culmination of a journey no parent should ever have to travel. It began when curly-haired, adorable David, just a little more than two years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. In an instant, he went from preschooler to patient.
There was no more big yellow bus to wait for;
No more little lunchbox to pack;
No more learning about colors and shapes and letters.
Instead, David learned about needles and blood transfusions, IV poles and pain. Soon David lost his curls. There was just one hope for recovery – a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, David’s story had a happy ending.
A six year old mischievous imp with a bouncy pony tail is diagnosed with leukemia. Mimi plans on being a nurse when she grows up. But will she grow up?
A bone marrow transplant is her sole chance to survive. She needs the transplant as soon as possible. So what is the problem, you ask. Why can’t she be scheduled to receive this life-saving transplant? A bone marrow transplant procedure is not so simple. The recipient and donor must match genetically. Not a simple match like in blood grouping, but a highly complex genetic match is needed. If a family member is not a perfect match, then the Jewish world must be searched with a fine tooth comb. Somewhere out there a match has to exist and it must be found. Ezer Mizion is the largest Jewish bone marrow registry in the world with well over650,000 registrants. But even that is not enough.
All too often, no match is found in Ezer Mizion’s database and a desperate search begins. A drive is held in Israel to genetically test potential donors. When a drive is held, it seems as if all of Israel opens its doors and pours into the 85 testing stations throughout the country. Jobs, university classes, household duties are all put on hold as the population streams to the centers to save the life of a Jewish child. Twenty thousand, sixty thousand, sometimes even more compassionate Jews, who have not yet been tested by Ezer Mizion, rush to help a child whom they do not even know. The crowd surges upon the centers with no end in sight. The hundreds of Ezer Mizion staff members do nothing but answer the constantly ringing phones and an emergency request may go out for physicians, nurses and phlebotomists to volunteer at the stations in drawing blood.
Lines are long but, as one registrant noted, “We waited two hours and not one person complained. How can someone complain that his plans for the day are ruined when a little child cannot even make plans. For her, there may not be a future.”
The samples arrrive. Now they must be tested. And now the work really begins. Genetic testing is highly expensive. Funds must be raised. Jews around the globe are contacted. Donations begin to trickle in. The stream becomes a river. Another mailing. Meetings. Events. The goal is reached. Each sample is registered as a potential donor for one of thousands of cancer patients whose sole chance of survival is a transplant. The registry grows.
But it’s still not enough. Seven years ago, Ezer Mizion partnered with the IDF and new recruits are routinely registered as potential donors. These young, healthy people, who will remain on the database for the maximum length of time, enrich the registry significantly with their varied ethnicities. The IDF recruits have vastly increased the chances of finding a match.
But it’s still not enough. Every year thousands of people die while waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Of these, one third are children. The rest are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, friends and neighbors. Ezer Mizion is continually searching for fundraising avenues so that more can be tested. Its goal: ONE MILLION registrants. Its prayer: that virtually each applicant receive a triumphant reply of ‘Yes! We have a match!’ Then it will be enough.