Dr. Moshe Schwartz, a US-born doctor living in Israel, was in need of assistance after dealing with post-COVID-19 medical issues such as diabetes and asthma. This was his second time contracting the virus after testing positive in September. He received stem cells donated by his friend in order to save his life.
Schwartz received the stem cells from Dov Landa, the director of Tov Medical Center in Pomona, New York. Landa had been helping those infected with COVID receive the best care possible and arranged for monoclonal antibody treatments, only to discover two months later that his friend, Schwartz, had been on an ECMO machine and ventilator.
Landa initiated a plan to donate the stem cells to Schwartz through Israel’s Pluristem Therapeutics, Miami’s Longeveron cellular therapy clinic and received help from United Hatzalah. Eli Beer, the founder of United Hatzalah, received mesenchymal stem cells during the early days of the pandemic and persuaded Longeveron to provide free treatment for Schwartz. The Miami company agreed to do so upon obtaining approval from the FDA and Israel’s Health Ministry, which was given following many Zoom calls and sleepless nights.
The cells themselves were donated by Dr. Josh Hare from the University of Miami Hospital, who helped arrange everything.
The stem cells had to be delivered to Israel as fast as possible, according to Longeveron. No planes to Israel were scheduled to leave from Miami until Sunday, which required that the stem cells were instead flown to New York to be placed on a Saturday night flight from JFK Airport. Volunteer emergency group Hatzalah’s of South Florida’s Baruch Sandhaus branch retrieved the stem cells from Longeveron that morning to deliver them to medical transport company Paraflight’s Simcha Shain, who took them to an airport in Farmingdale.
More problems eventually arose. El Al’s JFK manager had to wake up the airline’s head of engineering in the middle of the night for a permit to have the stem cells packed into dry ice. This added a delay for the entire flight of 30 minutes.
After the cells arrived in Israel, local officials required documents for them to be unloaded from the plane. United Hatzalah came to help and arranged an ambulance to take the stem cells for processing. Schwartz received his first dose shortly thereafter.
Landa said doctors expect Schwartz to undergo more treatments until he improves, and said that the entire effort of delivering the stem cells to his friend would not have been possible without the help of many Jewish community members who banded together to help an individual whom they had never met.
“Stem cells can potentially help patients get over the hump enough to the point where they can start getting on the mend – and we do try to do whatever we can when we get a compassionate request,” said Longeveron’s vice president of manufacturing Lisa McClain-Moss.
“This was a real Hanukkah miracle,” Landa said, “and we are all davening [praying] for the miracle to continue.”