Bone Marrow – A Simple Test that Saves

A few months before we moved to Israel, I heard the story of a boy named Jay who was sick with Leukemia. The only thing that would save him was a bone marrow transplant. Jay was one of “ours.” A Jewish boy with descendants from Eastern Europe…Poland/Russia, whatever. I gave my blood sample and put it on the back burner of my mind. I was finally moving to Israel.

My husband left just over two months before I was scheduled to fly with Elie and Shmulik. My daughter was to come to Israel with my mother a month before. It was a very complicated plan but it worked. My husband started his job here in Israel; I stayed back in America and packed up 10 years worth of memories and purchases. My daughter’s leaving was agony for me. What mother lets a 7-year-old go away for a month, I asked myself again and again. It was a good decision for her. Her father was already here – this way he wouldn’t be alone, and Amira would begin to learn Hebrew.

A week before my flight, I got a call. “We think you’re a match,” they told me.

I was in a panic. “I…my husband isn’t here,” I told the woman. “I’m alone with my two sons. I’m leaving the country in a week.”

“No problem,” she said calmly. “We can arrange for you to donate the bone marrow in Jerusalem, at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.”

I agreed; finished my move to Israel. I came here exhausted, excited, exhilarated.

About six weeks after I landed, having donated two pints of blood to myself, I underwent the procedure. As I was being taken into the operating room, I had my only moment of doubt. “Are you an idiot?” I asked myself. “How could you agree to do this? You have three small children.”

It was too late to stop it. I knew that. They had already neutralized the man’s sick bone marrow, ready to put my healthy bone marrow in place with the hope that it would multiply and thrive.

The bone marrow was taken and flown overnight back to New York. The operation was painful, very different than what is done today. The anesthesiologist actually left the room during the operation (something that isn’t even legal) and so wasn’t there when the doctor began drilling into my hip bone, only to find that the anesthesiologist had not successfully numbed it. The doctor felt bad. The nurses felt bad. There was nothing they could do – they were running against time constraints. The plane wouldn’t wait.

When it was all over, the doctor said, “If I asked you to do it again, would you?”

I started to cry; he was horrified.

The next day, I was calm enough to explain that yes, I would do it again, but please, please don’t ask me for a while. I went back to my new home to recuperate. It was an experience that I have never forgotten…

Ricki’s Mom posted a note on my blog:

You have a lot more readers than I do. Maybe you could mention the opportunity of soldiers to be checked for bone marrow compatibility (and not too opt out because it’s one stick too many…..) (see my blog)

I’m not sure I have a lot more readers – it’s a great blog, but she’s right about one thing…to be checked is nothing more than one more needle. To donate bone marrow is an incredible opportunity. I wish I could do it again. I am forever scarred by the thought that rather than helping, I was a part of a man dying sooner than he would have. The operation, as they say, was a success; but the patient died a few weeks later.

I live with his death and try to balance it with the word’s that my husband and others have offered me – that I gave him hope. Perhaps. But for the chance to give more than hope…for the chance to give life – I would do it again.

So soldiers – please, please take that one extra needle. If you stand on our borders with the hope of defending our land, than let yourself be checked with the hope that you’ll match someone and save a life.

And everyone else – please, please – take that needle. Get yourself checked. I can’t say if I would agree to donate a kidney; but donating bone marrow causes no long-term harm (and even little short-term pain).

It says in the Talmud to save a life is as if you have saved the world. One needle, one small blood sample and you could save someone’s world.

Thanks, Ricki’s Mom for a very important message to all.

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