D. talks with young patients in the oncology unit of the Schneider Childrens Hospital. During the beginning days of the current war against Hizbullah, D., an Reserve F-16 navigator with the Israeli Air Force, was busy with operational sorties aimed at defending the communities of the Galilee. But he was called away for a day to fight a more personal battle – for the life of a two year old child living abroad who contracted a violent form of cancer. D was found to be a match for a bone marrow transplant desperately needed by the baby.
Receiving permission to leave his unit, he rushed to the Schneider Medical Center in Petah Tikva and made a bone marrow donation for her.
“I am happy that I can give her this gift and I pray for her recovery,” the 32-year-old combat navigator said, after returning to his air force duties at the F-16 platoon in Hatzor.
A few years ago D. gave a blood sample as part of a special campaign for locating bone marrow donors in the IDF, sponsored by Ezer Mizion, which runs Israel’s national bone marrow donor registry.
Last year, after Ezer Mizion and the IDF signed the agreement that enabled all new recruits to join the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Donor Registry as an integral part of the army induction process, Brigadier General Elazar Stern, director of the IDF’s Human Resources Department, noted that “In addition to defending Israel’s borders, the army, together with Ezer Mizion, can now save lives in another way. “
40,000 IDF recruits join the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Donor Registry each year, the exact type of donor the registry is looking for.
“We are talking about an ideal type of potential bone marrow donor,” says Dr. Bracha Zisser, director of the Ezer Mizion registry. “IDF recruits are generally young and healthy, and are able to remain in the registry for decades.”
Earlier this year D. received a call from the organization’s chief transplant coordinator who told him that he is the only person in the world that matched a baby with leukemia, whose life is in danger.
“We received an urgent search request for a donor for a baby with acute leukemia and, to our joy, we found that D.’s tissue classification matches hers,” sad Zisser. “The chance of finding such a donor among people who are not family members is very low, and many of the patients are left without an satisfactory solution. When we turned to D. and asked for his help, he did not hesitate for a moment and immediately agreed.”
“I didn’t even know what it was about,” D. said, “because my medical savvy is limited to what I saw on TV in E.R., but right from the first conversation, I understood that this match is very rare and that it is a very important deed.”
Over the following weeks, D. underwent a series of tests that confirmed that his genetic profile matches that of the sick baby, whose identity he does not know because of medical ethics protocol, which stipulate that the identity of the donor and recipient must be kept in confidence until one year after the transplant.
A date was scheduled for the marrow donation, however, one week prior to the date, as the war in the north began, D. was called to his platoon and he took an active part in a number of offensive sorties in Lebanese skies.
When Ezer Mizion called him to confirm his planned arrival as they had previously arranged, D. told them that he would be there. “It was clear to me and my commanders that no matter what would happen on the same day – this takes precedence over everything else,” said D.
D. took a one day break from army duty and reported to the operating room of Schneider, where, under full anesthesia, a liter of bone marrow was extracted from his hip bone, containing the priceless stem cells required to save the life of the sick child.
The stem cell donation was flown abroad that night, where the family wa anxiously waiting.
The donated stem cells were transfused in the child’s blood, with the hope that it will be accepted and will begin generating new and cancer free blood cells in her body. Over the next three weeks, she will be kept in isolation at the medical center abroad where she is being treated. Only then will her doctors be able to determine whether her system has accepted the bone marrow.
Dr. Itzhak Yaniv, Head of Pediatric Oncology at Schneider, believes that her chances of recovery are good.
D., who was released to his home after the marrow donation, took a few days off from flying, until the aviation physician determined that he is once again fit to fly.
“I am happy that I could give her such a gift,” he said after the procedure. “I am privileged to be the only one who can help save the life of this child. For me, this is a kind of a miracle. I want to send her and her parents my heartfelt wishes that this transplant will succeed, that this process will make her healthy and that her second birthday will be the day on which her life will change for the better.”