Every father knows the feeling of sharing a special moment with his son. With some, it may be a hole in one at the golf course. With others, the first time drive in the new family Lexus. For the Katz family, their special moment was very special indeed. They each saved a life.
Itamar is 21 and had registered several years ago with Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry. He never expected to actually be called but the call did come and Itamar rose to the occasion. Yes, he was nervous about the procedure but when he thought of what would happen if he refused, it was a no-brainer. “It wasn’t as bad as I envisioned. Somewhat draining but nothing in comparison to what I achieved. I actually saved the life of another person!” He was still riding high on the waves of his achievement when another call came on the family phone. “I’m calling from Ezer Mizion. Is Professor Gideon Katz available?” The professor was abroad at the time but things moved fast and contact was made. Back home again, he and his son would glance at each other. No words were necessary. Father and son would be sharing an experience that defies description.
Professor Gideon Katz is head of the State of Israel Studies department at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva. He had registered with Ezer Mizion ten years ago during a recruitment drive at the university. His name was placed on the bone marrow registry database and there he assumed it would remain… just one of the close to a million registrants that make up Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry.
A Jewish cancer patient had been told that her only chance to live is a transplant. If a genetic match could be found, she would be cured. If not, … That’s when the Registry database of 885,264 potential donors was searched. Sifting through close to a million registrants, the computer stopped at the file of Professor Katz. Gideon was that DNA match. If he would agree, he could save her life. Not for one moment did he hesitate and so, for the first time in the history of Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry, father and son each merited to save a Jewish life.
Bone marrow transplants are used as therapy for about 100 different illnesses, including leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, diseases of the blood, and enzyme deficiencies. These diseases destroy bone marrow, which contains the stem cells responsible for manufacturing blood cells. For people with diseased or damaged bone marrow, a transplant from a genetically compatible donor is often the only hope for recovery.
Transplant recipients must be nearly identical matches with their donors for tissue-type markers known as HLA proteins. Although close family members offer the best chance of an HLA match, only 30% of patients find matches within their families. Because the number of possible HLA combinations is incredibly vast, the likelihood of two unrelated individuals matching each other is very low. Bone marrow transplant from unrelated yet HLA-matched donors is possible due to the existence of large computerized international registries of potential bone marrow donors.
Chances for a match increase significantly if the patient and potential donor share the same ethnic background. Because Jews in the past lived in isolated communities, they are today more genetically related to each other than to non-Jews. There are over 10 million potential donors registered in the International Bone Marrow Registry (BMDW) based in Holland, but only a very small percentage are of Jewish descent.
Ezer Mizion established its registry in 1998 to increase the pool of Jewish potential donors. Israel, home to an entire spectrum of Jewish communities and ethnic backgrounds, is the natural location for a Jewish bone marrow registry.
Today, the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Donor Registry is the largest Jewish registry in the world. Because Jewish patients generally require Jewish bone marrow donors, the registry is a vital resource for thousands of sick Jews and serves an insurance policy for worldwide Jewry.