The Israeli who never gets off at Ben-Gurion Airport

Zrihan, 47, has been volunteering for 20 years as an organ courier, mostly transporting bone marrow to patients across the globe

Mishel Zrian (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mishel Zrian
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many Israelis around the globe rushed to take the first flight home. But one, Mishel Zrian of Petah Tikva, took the opposite route.
Zrian, 47, has been volunteering for 20 years as an organ courier, and mostly transports bone marrow to patients across the globe: from Israel to patients abroad and vice versa.
Last month, when his employer told him he was about to be furloughed until the end of April, he decided to take this volunteering work to the next level and do it full time. Since then, he landed in Israel five times but never left the airport – to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“I have an agreement with the Israel Airports Authority,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “I am allowed to stay at the lounge until I need to get back to carry the next bone marrow delivery. Sometimes, I can land in Israel from New York at 5 p.m., and by 10 be on a flight in the opposite direction.”
Traveling during the coronavirus pandemic can be challenging, he said.
“When I arrived in Miami with bone marrow, they told me I must go into 14 days of mandatory quarantine,” he said. “After discussions, they agreed to let me deliver it to the hospital, with the condition that I’d leave the state immediately after that. The next flight was to Phoenix, Arizona, and so I found myself on my way there just to spend the next few days until the next delivery.”
Another challenge has to do with the fact that hotels and airports are operating in a limited form.
“It is hard to find an open restaurant when you are traveling. If I’m at the airport and I see an open place, I’d eat chicken at 10 a.m., because I don’t know when it will be the next time I get to eat,” Zrian said.
“In hotels, the situation is odd as well,” he continues. “Rooms are not always clean because of different guidelines regarding staff work, and if you need a towel or shampoo, you need to go down to the reception and ask for it. I have been in hotels with no breakfast or even coffee. It is not rare for me to travel 24 hours without eating,” he said.
But the main challenge, he said, is getting insured.
“I couldn’t find anyone who would allow me to buy an insurance policy for the US,” he said. “I am worried about the possibility that I’d get sick, and do my best to practice social distancing while traveling.”
Zrian said that despite all the challenges, he is determined to keep traveling because he knows that his work saves lives.
“The hardest part is to land in Israel without seeing my family. I have a wife and two children. Fortunately, they are supporting me.”
Bracha Zisser, founder and director of Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Donor Registry and Collection Center, told the Post that before the coronavirus outbreak, hospitals around the world used to send a courier to pick up the bone marrow.
"But things got complicated in the past few weeks. It is hard to deliver the bone marrow and to allow couriers to enter the country. We are working with Royale – a courier company [with which Zrian is volunteering] and with El Al – that are helping us with no cost, in full volunteering," she said. "They understand that it is about saving lives."
Zisser also said that in March, Ezer Mizion was able to deliver 26 bone marrow donations: 14 to EU countries, 10 to the US, one to Argentina and one to Panama.
On Saturday, Zrian was about to take off from Newark to Israel, when his flight got canceled.
"I begged them to let me on the flight, that left to Israel as a cargo flight, but to no avail," Zrian said.
Zisser said that since Zrian's flight was canceled, Ezer Mizion sent through El Al the bone marrow he was supposed to pick up in Israel.
"They sent it to Belgium, and from Belgium to New York, where Zrian will pick it up and deliver it," she said.
"We currently have Mishel Zrian on the line from Tel Aviv to the US and one more person on the line from Tel Aviv to Belgium," Nitsan Hadar, Israel Country Director at The Royale International Group, told the Post.
"The first challenge was dealing with the quarantine requirements. It is a tough time when everything keeps changing. Despite the challenges, we were able to deliver bone marrow even to Italy, with a driver he came to pick it up from the airport in Belgium. We were also able to bring three donations from Germany to patients in Israel," he added.