Hospital beds 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Not all battles are won in the course of a hard-fought war. Eight-year-old Tal
Shitrit of Kibbutz Nahsholim lost his struggle for life this week on the eve of
a possible turnaround. He succumbed to the leukemia that had relentlessly
attacked him for nearly three years, just when a suitable bone-marrow donor was
about to arrive from France to give him a new chance to live.
uncommonly handsome boy captured the hearts of Israelis during an Ezer Mizion
drive four months ago to help find a compatible tissue-type match for what
doctors defined as Tal’s “complex DNA composite.”
Intricate genetic mixes
are prevalent in this country, a melting pot of diverse extractions and
Although some patients with leukemia or other cancers have a
genetically matched family member who can donate, about 70 percent don’t. These
patients’ lives depend on finding a donor, often at least partially of their own
The response to the drive to save Tal was
extraordinary. Thousands stood patiently in long queues. Total
strangers appeared personally affected by his plight. Adults aged 18-50 gave up
valuable time on an ordinary workday and waited their turn without a grumble to
fill out long forms and have blood taken from their veins. This isn’t the first
such drive, but the outpouring of solidarity surprises the organizers anew each
Donating bone marrow is one of the most practicable, uncomplicated
and non-risky procedures to help patients for whom the gift of life from
unrelated people could be their sole chance for survival.
process isn’t simple and entails an evaluation that can take upward of six
weeks. Those whose tissue-type isn’t compatible with the patient’s remain
potential donors. Having been properly screened and typed, their data is
included in the Ezer Mizion bone marrow registry – the world’s largest Jewish
bone-marrow donor database – where it stays accessible for future
But heartwarming as the unstinted grassroots response has been in
every such drive, the fly in this otherwise most excellent of ointments is the
need to depend on the generosity of philanthropic nonprofit organizations, such
as Ezer Mizion.
The likelihood of finding a donor in existing Israeli
registries is calculated at 1 in 30,000. Significantly enlarging these
registries is too heavy a financial burden for NGOs to shoulder. The feasible
solution is a central public-run registry instead of the existing three (Ezer
Mizion, Hadassah Ein-Kerem and, the smallest, at Sheba Medical
For years the Treasury had nixed all initiatives to foot the
bill for such an undertaking. Last February, however, the Knesset finally –
after an eight-year parliamentary campaign – approved legislation mandating the
establishment of an integrated government-funded centralized registry. This
should have placed the 460,000 Ezer Mizion samples, Hadassah’s 60,000 and
Sheba’s 1,000 in a single framework, geared for expansion.
to much weightier Treasury outlays, maintaining and enlarging the registry is
regarded as an insignificant drop in the budgetary ocean – NIS 5 million
annually. Many lives might be saved merely by removing the managerial and
financial onus from voluntary organizations. For one thing, this could speed up
the discovery of matching donors and thereby offer more rapid help.
far, however, the law notwithstanding, not an agora has been spent on this
cause. There is no excuse for foot-dragging. The sooner this strange
disinclination to action is ended, the greater the promise for desperate
patients like Tal.
Our only solace is that officialdom’s vacuum is filled
by a deluge of popular generosity, compassion and cohesion. It’s doubtful that
the great crowds of potential donors, who mob Ezer Mizion’s testing teams, could
be equaled anywhere else on earth.
Beautiful Israel shines through as if
to belie the vilification that is unhappily its lot.
“Israel isn’t merely
a nation. It’s one large family, united on all fronts. I am so proud to be one
of the family of Israel,” said Yuval Kadosh, father of Amit, whose life was
saved in a similar Ezer Mizion drive in 2009. He speaks for us all.