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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."