Wanted: Bone marrow for Jewish mother

London family turns to social media to help find donor for mom undergoing chemotherapy.

Sharon Berger with daughter Caroline and her grandchild 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Jonathan Berger)
Sharon Berger with daughter Caroline and her grandchild 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Jonathan Berger)
A Jewish family in London, England is frantically searching for a donor match for their mother, who needs a bone marrow transplant within a matter of weeks.
When Sharon Berger, 61, was diagnosed with a preleukemic condition known as Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in 2006, she was told that she would need a transplant, and has been waiting for a suitable donor ever since. But last month a severe infection led to chemotherapy treatments and increased the sense of urgency the family felt. By the end of her six-week treatment next month, Sharon must have a bone marrow transplant. And unless the Berger family finds a suitable match, they will be forced to risk using either cord blood or stem cells from Sharon’s son Jonni, neither which option is an ideal match and would increase the danger of failure in an already high-risk operation.
"It really is a race against time, my mom's chemotherapy started this week which means that in six weeks time she will need a bone marrow transplant, and a good match has not yet been found," Jonni tells The Jerusalem Post. "Although a match is most likely to come from someone from the Ashkenazi community, we would like to grow the bone marrow registry, so that everyone can benefit."
He points out that bone marrow donations are permissible under Jewish law, avoiding the debate which frequently accompanies the issue of organ donation.
While statistics show that 30 percent of people are lucky enough to find a match from within their families, to Sharon’s misfortune her three siblings are all matches for each other, but not for her. Sharon's survival hinges on finding her perfect match.
In an effort to save their mother's life, Jonni and Caroline have launched a social media campaign to encourage members of the public to join the bone marrow register, both in the United Kingdom and overseas. They named their Twitter campaign #Spit4Mum to emphasize the quick and easy way in which people can join the British national stem cell register – a saliva sample is all it takes to test someone's tissue type.
The family is working through the UK-based register Anthony Nolan, which has close ties to its Israeli counterpart Ezer Mizion. The Israeli organization has built up the world's largest Jewish bone marrow donor registry and has handled thousands of search requests from transplant centers in 47 countries. To join the registry, healthy Israelis between the ages of 18 and 50 simply need to make an appointment at the Ezer Mizion center in Petah Tikva, via their website. Director of Resource Development Hadassah Somosi stressed the importance of joining their database, calling it a responsibility that truly captures the notion of “power of the people.” She explains that there are over 100 illnesses that can be treated by stem cell transplants, diseases which could “hit anyone.” She also notes that Israel’s registry is the highest per capita in the world, a fact which she described as “the most beautiful side of the Jewish nation.”
Sharon's children also called on those who have already joined a bone marrow registry to ensure their details are up to date. "If you can't be reached, you can't be a lifesaver," says Caroline.
"There must be a bone marrow match for Sharon out there, we just need to find them," Sharon's husband Stephen stresses. “Finding one would be better than winning the lottery for us, and although the odds seem smaller, what I would like to say to all those reading this is that it could be you, don't miss out on the chance to save a life. “
Stephen is himself a volunteer courier for Anthony Nolan, and spends his free time racing across the UK delivering stem cells between donors and patients. "Do not think of being a donor as an arduous or disruptive procedure, this is one of the myths I am hoping to dispel… it really can be as simple as giving blood," he says.More details of the Spit4Mum campaign for Sharon Berger can be found at http://is.gd/Spit4Mum or by contacting Jonni Berger at jonni@thebergers.co.uk