The Gift of Life


(This isn’t my normal fare, but since this is my blog, I figure I can take it where I want to go. And today, I want to take it somewhere horrible. But also a tiny bit hopeful.)


It is a scourge.

There’s no way around it.

Every diagnosis I hear, and I seem to be hearing a lot these days, is the same. The sorrow, the anger. The hand-wringing.

The silent scream, “WHY?

And the question, “What can I do?”

We daven and we love and we listen. We might cook a few meals, or make a donation.

But when the friend, the family member, the stranger needs a bone marrow transplant — then we must spring into action.

While few of us are oncologists, all of us can stand ready to fight cancer.

We can become warriors by joining the world-wide registry of people willing to give the gift of life through a bone marrow transplant.

You’ve heard this message before. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

And yet today, I’m saying it again. Because there is a four year-old girl named Jayden, who lives in Montreal and needs a transplant to save her life.

Jayden has MDS (myelodyplastic syndrome), which is a pre-leukemia disease so rare that the Montreal Children’s Hospital where she lives has never treated it before.

MDS will likely progress into AML (Acute Myelogenos Leukemia) — at which point Jayden will need a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Her family is searching for a donor. Her two brothers were tested; neither was a match.

Wherever you live — in Canada or Kathmandu — it takes 30 seconds to be swabbed and another 90 seconds to fill out some paperwork.

If you are a match — for Jayden or anyone else, ever — you will be contacted. A follow-up blood test will confirm the match before the donation can be made. You can learn more about the procedure on the Gift of Life website.

Drives are being organized across Canada and the United States to find a donor for Jayden. You can read out about them HERE.

If you don’t live in any of those communities, you can organize a drive in your town — or find one near you. Or you can register online as a donor (and be contacted for further information about how to submit your cheek swab sample).

For Jayden. For Sam. And for all the others – children and adults; loved ones and strangers. Please get swabbed.

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  1. I did a swab several years ago during a registration drive at college. This January I was called and told I was a potential match for a 10 year old with AML. They did a blood test and confirmed the match. After that the next step was a complete physical. Unfortunately while I was in the hospital doing the physical my donation coordinator called to tell me that the patient had relapsed again and since they cannot do the donation unless the patient’s condition is stable enough to receive the new marrow or stem cells, the donation was indefinitely postponed. The physical exam also found that my iron levels were not sufficient to be a donor, so a tip to those who have or are planning to register, make sure to keep your iron at a healthy level, particularly if you’re a woman (women are more likely to have low iron because they lose a lot through menstruation). Although it didn’t end in my being able to donate, my experience with Gift of Life could not have gone more smoothly. They were there every step of the way, making arrangements and telling me what to expect. I hope everyone makes an effort to join a registry as soon as possible. A quick cheek swab is literally all it takes.

    • Mara Strom says

      Esther — Thank you so much for sharing that! And the important reminder about iron (the last time I went to give blood, I was turned away b/c my iron was too low.)

  2. I registered with them a few years ago, when a friend of a friend was conducting a world-wide search for a match from Israel, and I never received my swab test kit.. I was waiting for it, then it slipped my mind. Now I just keep getting fundraising emails from the asking for $$ donations… Hopefully this is not typical, but I’d like them to pay more attention to those who attempt to register.

  3. I too am already registered and try to give blood as much as I can since I’m a universal donor. I haven’t been called yet, but I tell everyone I know to get signed up.

  4. Debra Shaffer Seeman says

    I organized SWAB Atlanta, where we ran Gift of Life Donor Drives at events around Atlanta the week of Purim this year. Each drive took about 30 minutes of my time to organize. I strongly recommend that you add a Donor Drive to a pre-existing event where 18-60 year olds will be present. Are you hosting a bar/bat mitzvah? Wedding? Yom HaAtzmaut event? End of school party? Purim Carnival? Please consider adding a table to your celebration. If you have any connections to college campuses, that is the ideal target population.

    • I registered several years ago with Gift of Life, but never knew you could add a donor drive to a pre-existing event. What a marvelous idea!

  5. I was swabbed many years ago. Does that automatically keep me in the registry?

    • Mara Strom says

      Yes, that’s my understanding!

      • Actually, it depends on the registry. About 25 years ago, I had blood testing done for a bone marrow registry (that was how it was done at the time) and thought I was registered forever. Then, a few years ago, I checked with that registry to verify that I was still included, because a Gift of Life drive was coming to my local JCC, only to find that I was no longer registered. So, I went and got swabbed at the GoL registry.

        • Mara Strom says

          Thanks for clarifying that Deb! I guess contacting GoL would be the way to go if anyone wants to confirm!

    • Debra Shaffer Seeman says

      If you entered the registry many years ago via a blood donation, you should probably be swabbed. However, if you were swabbed (rubbing something like a Q tip inside your cheek), then you continue to be in the registry for years to come – and many national bone marrow/stem cell registries share information with each other so you only need to swab with one. Just make sure that you regularly update your contact information with them so that they can reach you if you are a match. To see if you’re in the registry, click here If you’re not in the registry, click here to order a kit and help save some lives! If you are not between the ages of 18 and 60 or have ever been diagnosed with cancer or HIV, consider donating funds by clicking here

  6. I can not donate, and trust me this little one does not want my marrow or stem cells, but I can pass this along. My heart goes out to this family and all the other families I know fighting this horrible disease. AD MOSAI!!!!

  7. Sadly I was turned away when I went due to pre-existing auto-immune disease 🙁 However, my husband was able to register. So far no calls, but he is ready and waiting!

  8. Another option is Be the Match, which I recently registered with (in addition to G of L) because my 30 year old cousin was diagnosed with AML and that’s the site they recommended. The swabbing kit was very easy to use. Good news is that they found many matches for her on Be the Match so in a month or so, she will have a bone marrow transplant. Please pray for her and all those waiting for a match.

  9. I’m registered with Be the Match– in honor of Henry and Eli <3

  10. I am only a few years from turning 60. What happens then? Am I merely eliminated from consideration or do they keep me on “standby” just in case? Why do they only want donors <60?

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