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Jake and Andrew at Sheep Shearing Drive

Andrew and Jake met at their synagogue, Temple Emanuel, in Andover, MA. Upon meeting, the boys discovered they had something important in common: both wanted to hold bone marrow donor drives to make a difference by fulfilling the mitzvot of Pikuach Nefesh (saving a life) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) for their mitzvah project. Andrew learned about donor drives and Gift of Life through a pamphlet he saw at the Temple, while Jake had volunteered at two previous drives and met Paige, Special Projects Coordinator for Gift of Life, at an expo. She facilitated the meeting between the two boys, and a project was born.

Many synagogues encourage or require students to participate in a mitzvah project that contributes to the community and helps the less fortunate as part of becoming a Jewish adult. Jake and Andrew decided to hold not one, but two donor drives in their respective communities. This may sound daunting, but they were determined to fulfill the need they saw and help save lives. The boys carefully planned both events and started the task of promoting the drives in their communities. They posted fliers around town and the local paper in Andover wrote an article about the project, encouraging people to go out and join the registry. They even ran an announcement in their Temple’s newsletter informing members of the synagogue about their Mitzvah project. Jake and Andrew also appeared in front of the town board to present their idea of holding donor drives at community events.

The first drive was held on May 22nd at the Sheep Shearing Festival in North Andover; they spent 8 hours encouraging people to “shear a sheep, swab a cheek, and save a life.” During the Fourth Annual Pancake Breakfast on July 4th in Andover, they spent four hours swabbing cheeks. Thanks to their hard work, both drives were highly successful, and a total of 134 people joined the registry.

When asked what advice they had for kids their age who want to run donor drives, their answer was simple: have a plan and buddy up. Jake and Andrew agreed that partnering up helps when dividing the work and it makes it more fun. Together, they recognized a need to help others and save lives and acted on it. Andrew said, “Hard work pays off. It feels good because I can potentially save a life!” Jake closely echoed his sentiments, and added that “Gift of Life is a great organization.”

Both boys are having their Bar Mitzvahs next year, and each has plans to continue volunteering at donor drives and registering when they turn 18. Andrew is even giving guests at his Bar Mitzvah party a chance to join the registry by having a table where people can get swabbed. If you would like more information about how your family can sponsor its own Mitzvah project for Gift of Life, contact Paige LaMarche at plamarche@giftoflife.org or 800-9MARROW.

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During this summer’s “Finding a Hero in You at Camp” program, Gift of Life partnered with the Foundation for Jewish Camp and held 32 donor recruitment drives at 28 different summer camps across the United States. Among the camps included were Camp Kutz, Camp Shwayder, Ramah Day Camp, and BHE Camp. Camp staff members and visiting friends and families of campers were among the 907 people swabbed, helping to increase the worldwide bone marrow registry.

Staffers Swab for Gift of Life

Each camp had its own unique experience, and some amazing stories resulted from the drives. The camps educated their staff about how easy it can be to save a life, and that we are all responsible for caring for one another. Many Gift of Life ambassadors were given the chance to share their story and to educate their audience about the benefits of becoming a registered donor. Staff members were then given the opportunity to swab their cheeks, making the concept of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) very real.

At Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, three different individuals told their stories. Donors Avi and Alan shared their experiences to encourage others to take the step of becoming a registered donor. The staff members even had the opportunity to hear from one of their own, Dan. He is a former donor and shared his story of donating to a stranger and saving a life; he even added that his sister had recently donated, as well. Their testimonies were powerful and it gave their listeners the chance to hear about the process of donating bone marrow or PBSC from someone who has already gone through the experience.

During staff week at BHE Camp, which is nestled in the Berkshire Hills, Vic and Bruce, a donor/recipient pair, shared their story to members of the staff; their audience was able to hear both sides of the story, giving them first-hand knowledge of how it feels to donate and to see the results of saving someone else’s life. After the men shared their testimony, staff was given the opportunity to swab their cheek and join the registry. One camp, Surprise Lake, even had an alumnus who was a donor send a message to camp via a taped DVD for staff to watch.

Though the summer only just ended, Ruth Miller and Paige Lamarche, recruitment coordinators for Gift of Life, are already planning next summer, hoping to make it bigger and better. This year was very successful, and they hope to build on that. Ruth believes that “Jewish Summer Camps have always provided campers and staff with highly impactful experiences. By allowing The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation to share its life saving work with so many future donors we are helping our patients not only by the testing done at camp but with the knowledge and passion that campers, staff and parents will bring home to their communities and college campuses.”

For more information on the summer camp program, email camp@giftoflife.org or call 1-800-962-7769.

Lisa joined the registry at a drive held on Mitzvah Day at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA in 2005. An employee of the synagogue, Lisa had been working on other aspects of the event and barely had time to be tested. She made it over just as the booth was shutting down for the day, and it’s a good thing she did. Four years later, she was shown to be a perfect match for Michele, who had been diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

Gift of Life donor Lisa, left, and recipient Michele, right, pose at their first in person meet in 2010 at the 'Partners for Life Gala' in New York City. (Photo/Gift of Life)

Lisa donated bone marrow in March 2009 at the University of Maryland Hospital. Little did she know her recipient Michele was just a few miles away at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center waiting for her life-saving cells to be delivered. The two met just over one year later in New York when they were introduced by Michele’s friend, Bill, a long-time Gift of Life supporter. Michele remembers the experience of meeting Lisa as one of the most exciting and memorable of her life (other than her wedding, of course!), and she says that Lisa is “a very kind, generous person with a good heart who will be a friend for life.” 

Oftentimes, our donors ask, “when can I meet my recipient?”  The answer lies in the guidelines and policies set by the countries and registries who request our donors. The guidelines set by the United States and Gift of Life’s policies require a system that ensures the privacy of both donors and recipients. Donors are informed at the time of donation that the process is anonymous, though they can know the recipient’s age, sex, and diagnosis. Donors can even request updates on the patient’s status from the transplant center at one month and six months after transplantation, and then annually for five years.

During the first year following the transplant, both parties are allowed to have anonymous contact, which means that any letters, cards, or gifts sent must not include any personal or identifying information that reveal a donor’s name, location, or other specifics. Anonymous contact can take place through the donor center or the recipient’s transplant center, and both will check to make sure that no personal details are revealed.  Photos, gifts of high monetary value, and personally mixed CDs or DVDs are also not permitted during the first year.

After one year, donors and recipients may meet by mutual written agreement. If both parties do not consent, they cannot meet. This rule applies as long as all aspects of the search, donation and/or transplant process has taken place in the United States; if any part of the process takes place in a different country, other guidelines must be adhered to. Some countries prohibit contact, and Gift of Life can help either party find out what the specific guidelines are in other countries. 

Having the opportunity to meet your donor or recipient is a once in a lifetime experience. Some never get the chance to meet, but those that do develop a lifelong friendship. Gift of Life is extremely grateful and proud of the men and women who have donated, as well as all members of the registry.  We are always here to answer any questions and look forward to continuing to help connect donors and recipients.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) is a form of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is the disease-fighting network that reaches throughout the entire body.  It involves the presence of cancerous cells in the lymph nodes, but it can spread to other areas in the lymphatic system, and occasionally to areas outside of that system. Numerous subtypes of NHL exist, and they are grouped in two categories. First, the aggressive form: these types grow and spread rapidly and can cause severe symptoms.  Second, there is the non-aggressive form: it is termed as indolent or low-grade, and grows and spreads gradually, causing few symptoms in patients. 

Normally, a healthy lymphatic system goes through a predictable cycle; new white blood cells are created as the old ones die off. However, when your body produces the cells and they don’t die, it results in NHL. Instead of dying off, cells continue to grow and divide, and this oversupply of cells crowds into the lymph nodes (and sometimes other parts in the lymphatic system), causing them to swell.  There are two types of cells: B cells fight infection by producing antibodies that kill foreign invaders, while T cells kill the foreign invaders directly.  

The direct cause is unknown, though doctors have discovered some possible risk factors. One factor is immune-suppressing drugs. Those who have had an organ transplant are susceptible because of the immunosuppressive drug therapy that reduces the body’s ability to fight off diseases. Certain viruses and bacteria that cause infection can also be a factor, such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Epstein Barr. Lastly, age is a factor.  While NHL can develop at any age, those who are older are at a higher risk.

Treatment is based on the type and stage of the lymphoma, the patient’s age, and their overall health. Typical treatment of aggressive NHL includes chemotherapy, radiation, or a bone marrow transplant. Doctors initially try the first two treatments, but sometimes a bone marrow transplant provides the only possibility for survival and can provide the best chance for a patient to have long-term remission.

In some cases, immediate treatment may not be necessary. If the type a patient has is slow-growing, the doctor may opt for the “wait and see” approach.  If the patient delays treatment, they won’t be on their own; the doctor will schedule regular checkups to make sure the cancer isn’t advancing or spreading. Whether a patient has an aggressive or non-aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, help and support is always available. For more information on Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, please visit the National Institutes of Health http://health.nih.gov/topic/NonHodgkinsLymphoma

Lymphoma is the most common form of all blood cancers; it occurs when a person’s white blood cells begin behaving abnormally and can be categorized into two types: Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s. The signs and symptoms for both types are the same, and people present with flu or cold-like symptoms.
Out of the two types of lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, is the most uncommon. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 8,500 new cases of the disease are projected each year. Though it is possible for the cancer to develop in both kids and adults, it is more commonly diagnosed in teens and adults ages 15-35 and in older adults over the age of 50.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops in the cells of the immune system, and it is characterized by the presence of giant, mutated cells, known as Reed-Sternberg cells. It usually starts in the lymph nodes, but it can also spread to other organs. Essentially, this disease is diagnosed when the white blood cells transform and become abnormal within the lymphatic system (which includes lymph nodes/vessels, spleen, tonsils and thymus).

Cells affected by Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The disease can be divided into two main categories, classical and lymphocyte predominant. Over 95% of cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma are in the classical category, and the type a person develops may affect treatment choices. The characteristics of each subset are similar, though the type a person develops is dependent on their age and gender. There are four stages of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The first stage involves a single lymph node region; stage two involves two or more lymph node regions on the same side of the diaphragm; stage three involves lymph node regions on both sides of the diaphragm; and stage four is dispersed involvement of one or more of the organs, such as the spleen.

Doctors rarely know why someone develops this disease, but there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s chance of acquiring Hodgkin’s lymphoma: 1. Certain viruses, such as Epstein-Barr and HIV, may increase the risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 2. Weakened immune system from an inherited condition, certain drugs, or after an organ transplant; and 3. Family history where a person related to you has had lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not contagious nor does having one or more of the risk factors mean you will develop the disease.

Doctors choose the type of treatment a patient goes through depending on the type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the stage of the disease, and the person’s age. Chemotherapy is the frontline treatment, usually followed by radiation therapy. However, bone marrow transplants are a vital and necessary treatment if chemo and radiation fail to work or if the patient does not respond as well as the doctor hopes. If the disease progresses to a more severe stage, a bone marrow transplant is the best option; it increases a person’s chance of living and has helped cure many patients of Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the years.

Like with most diseases, there are new cures and treatments being studied every year. Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been studied more than any other type of lymphoma, and there has been rapid progression in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. As a result of the aggressive study of this type of cancer, there is a  survival rate of over 80%. Patients who have been diagnosed with lymphoma are not alone. There are support and networking groups that will be with the patient every step of the way,  from diagnosis to recovery. For more information on lymphoma and support groups, visit lymphoma.org

Did you know that there are over 400 different types of anemia? Traditionally, anemia is a blood disorder that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells. Anemia, however, can be categorized into three groups: (1) anemia caused by blood loss; (2) anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell production; and (3) anemia caused by destruction of red blood cells.

One of the many types of anemia is Diamond Blackfan Anemia (DBA), which is a rare blood disorder that is characterized by a failure of bone marrow to produce red blood cells. The disorder was recognized in 1938, and it goes by a few other names: congenital pure red cell aplasia, congenital hypoplastic anemia, and Aase syndrome. DBA was named after Dr. Louis Diamond and Dr. Kenneth Blackfan, who discovered and documented the first cases of this disorder in the 1930s.

Currently, there are over 550 patients that suffer from DBA. It affects males and females alike and is usually diagnosed within the first year of a person’s life; because of this, many of the documented cases are children. According to the DBA Registry, the average age of those presenting with anemia is 2 months, and the average age of diagnosis of DBA is 4 months. Luckily, it is rare that this disorder goes unnoticed for long.

Similar to other types of anemia, DBA is characterized by pale skin, sleepiness, and a rapid heartbeat. Sometimes, people don’t have physical signs, but between 30-47% of people who do have it are born with birth defects, such as abnormalities to the hands, face, or head. There a couple tests that a doctor can perform to tell if a person has it. One test involves studying the bone marrow under a microscope to see if the characteristics appear; other tests include blood tests to see if there is a genetic or chemical basis for DBA. Half of the patients with DBA have a known genetic cause, while others don’t know what caused it. If a parent has it, there is a 50% chance their child could have it.

Fortunately, there are several ways to treat Diamond Blackfan Anemia. The most common options for treating DBA are corticosteroid medications and blood transfusions. The treatments have scary names, but they aren’t; plus, they are life-saving! The third way to treat DBA is through a bone marrow transplant (See our last blog on FAQ’s on bone marrow donation). There are other treatment options being studied, but these three are the most common and the safest for patients. Though having DBA can be daunting, most patients are encouraged to be active. With proper care and treatment, people with DBA can live full lives and happy lives.

To learn more about Diamond Blackfan Anemia, visit CDC on the web.

Let’s face it: when it comes to donating bone marrow, people have a lot of misconceptions and fears. First and foremost, donating bone marrow is completely voluntary. It sounds scarier than it is, and though a person between the ages of 18 and 60 can register (as long as they’re in good health), you may never be called to donate! That is not to say it’s not important to register; someday, you could have the opportunity to save a life.

Many times, people believe that patients needing bone marrow transplants will receive their transplant from someone they are related to, whether that be a sibling, parent, or other relative. In actuality, over 75% of patients will receive marrow from a stranger, which means there is only a 25% chance that their match will be from a blood relative! A person’s best chance of finding a match lies with someone from a similar ethnic background, and if the patient’s ethnicity is in the minority, it can be very difficult to find a donor.

Bone Marrow Magnified 200x

Another myth that surrounds bone marrow donation is the idea that it is dangerous and painful, requiring an invasive surgery that can debilitate the donor. This is not the case! It’s true that no medical procedure is without risk, but there are rarely any long-term side effects from donating marrow. Only 4 to 6 percent of a person’s healthy marrow is needed to save a life, so the donor’s immune system is not in jeopardy and the cells replace themselves within four to six weeks. There is some discomfort when donating bone marrow, but it is not exceedingly painful, and there is no long-term recovery!

There are two ways to donate bone marrow. The first is a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation. The process is pretty simple; for five days prior to donating, you are injected with a drug called filgrastim, which stimulates production of white blood stem cells. During a procedure called Apheresis, blood is taken out through a needle in an arm vein, (like when donating blood for a general health checkup) sent through a machine that separates the white blood stem cells from everything else, and the rest of the blood is returned to you through a vein in the other arm; the entire process takes around 4-6 hours. PBSC donors may experience flu-like symptoms but most symptoms will disappear, and you will be back to your normal routine within a few days.

Get the Facts

Donating bone marrow is a type of surgery, and donors are put under regional or general anesthesia, so there is no pain during the actual procedure. Needles are inserted through the skin and the doctor withdraws liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone. Many believe that pieces of bone are removed, but this is not true! Only liquid marrow is removed, and it replaces itself in 4-6 weeks. Only around a quart of marrow and blood is collected, which is minimal but life-saving. Most donors go home the same day as donating, and while some experience soreness in their lower back for a couple weeks, most marrow donors are back to their normal routine within 2-7 days.

Yes, it sounds scary, but the risk is minimal, and the potential to save a life is infinitely worth it. Today, 80% of donors go through PBSC donation, and the surgical procedure has become increasingly less frequent. For more information on bone marrow donation or becoming a donor, please visit Gift of Life’s website,