Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Bone Marrow Donations: Four-Year-Old Israeli Girl Hopes for Second Chance
By Linda Feinberg

When Israelis go to the polls this week to elect a new prime minister, at least one little girl in Eretz Yisroel is going to be sitting on the edge of her seat -- but not because she's pulling for one of the candidates.

Four-year-old Naama has leukemia and needs to find a matching bone marrow donor -- and fast, because time is running out on her. Right now her one hope is that a donor will be found through Ezer Mizion's Election Day Nationwide Drive.

The goal of the drive is to collect 25,000 blood samples from potential bone marrow donors among the Israeli voting public. Staff members are hoping that one of those samples will turn out to be the one that will save Naama's life.

Ezer Mizion runs a Bone Marrow Registry, and each time the organization conducts such a drive and gathers more samples, the chances of finding a donor improve dramatically -- and not just for Naama, but also for dozens of other cancer patients in similar situations.

And yet, despite the fast growth of Ezer Mizion's Bone Marrow Registry since its establishment in 1998, finding a donor is still far from a sure thing. That's why Ezer Mizion staff members and volunteers were out in full force on Tuesday as they asked Israelis and supporters of the project in North America to cast a vote for life.

Naama Wants To Live

Yossi Biton is Naama's father, and his message to the public is short and simple: "Naama wants to live."

Naama was diagnosed with leukemia 18 months ago. Her parents immediately took her to receive all the necessary treatments, and to their great relief, when the treatments came to an end, the doctors announced that she was cured.

Naama returned to her preschool, where she spent the next few months playing happily like any other child. But then the disease returned -- and this time it was even stronger than before.

Naama had to go back to the hospital, where she was kept in isolation. But none of the treatments helped. Her doctors told her parents that the only chance for a cure -- and for her to continue to live -- was a bone marrow transplant. Neither her parents nor her older sister turned out to be genetically compatible donors, so the family turned to international donor registries in a desperate effort to find a match.

And yet, despite the fact that there are more than 5,000,000 potential donors registered in the Bone Marrow Database Worldwide (BMDW) in Holland, not one of them can help Naama.

The reason, according to Dr. Bracha Zisser, director of the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry, is that most of these donors are not Jewish.

"Generally, the chances of finding a genetically compatible donor are somewhere between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 30,000," Dr. Zisser says. "But for Jews, the odds are even worse. It seems we have a unique genetic code. That's why it's so crucial to keep expanding this bone marrow registry. It's similar to medical insurance -- you hope you'll never need it, but if you eventually do, it really helps."

To that end, Ezer Mizion holds donor drives throughout Eretz Yisroel several times a year. Thousands of Israelis turn out for each drive and this exceptional show of support is what has allowed the registry to grow from just 5,000 donors in 1998 to almost 60,000 donors today.

"Our volunteers are always amazed," Dr. Zisser continues, "at how people of all backgrounds -- blue-collar workers, executives, housewives, teenagers -- take time out from their busy lives to come to donate a blood sample."

Although Israelis are the major contributors to the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry, Dr. Zisser is quick to point out that the registry helps Jewish cancer patients from all over the world.

"The Bone Marrow Registry receives some 150 search requests every month, from transplant centers, international donor registries and physicians located throughout the world," says Dr. Zisser. "We've already found matching donors for several cancer patients in America, and facilitated fourteen successful transplants. Of course, we would like to see that number increase so that every Jewish cancer patient will have a fighting chance."

The Price Of Success

Dr. Zisser explains that there needs to be at least 250,000 Jewish donors registered in order to give a Jewish cancer patient at least a 50 percent chance of finding a matching donor. To date, there are only about 120,000 Jews registered worldwide.

In addition to the need to increase the number of donors, there is also a need to increase funding for the project.

"It costs $65 in lab expenses to test and tissue-type each sample," she explains. "And then there are the expenses of running the donor drive. Things like test tubes, application forms, band-aids and processing donor information forms all add up."

American, European and Israeli supporters of Ezer Mizion play an important role in helping the organization raise the necessary funds for each drive. Though a bone marrow donor has to be between the ages of 18-55 and in good health, many people who cannot give a blood sample can still help out by making a financial contribution. And American Jews who have already contributed a sample to an American bone marrow registry have also joined in this effort to help save Jewish lives in precisely this way -- by making a monetary donation.

"This is one mitzva that every Jew can have a share in," says Dr. Zisser. "We hope that everyone will take advantage of the opportunity to help save a Jewish child's life -- whether it's Naama's or another child in desperate need of a lifesaving bone marrow transplant."


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