McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Jay Feinberg (left) is founder and executive director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation in Boca Raton, Fla., that since 2000 has registered more than 200,000 potential donors and made nearly 10,000 matches between people who need the blood-producing matter to those willing to give it. With Feinberg is Gregg Francis, chief operating and financial officer.
BOCA RATON, Fla. — For 13 years, a Boca Raton foundation has been transferring the stuff of life from one person to another — and saving countless lives in the process.
Since the first time it matched up a donor to a recipient in 2000, The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation has registered 215,140 potential donors and put together 9,479 matches between people who need the blood-producing matter to those willing to give it. It’s one of three marrow registries in the United States and the only one founded and run by a bone marrow transplant recipient — Jay Feinberg.
When Feinberg first heard his leukemia was a death sentence in 1991, the science of transplanting bone marrow was just in its infancy.
Neither of his two brothers had tissue types that matched his. Because of that, the 22-year-old had nowhere else to turn. His doctor advised him to go home and prepare for his death: Finding a donor for to match his particular Eastern European Jewish strain would be the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“He was quite knowledgeable about my illness,” Feinberg, 44, said of the doctor. “But what he didn’t know was the Jewish mother effect.”
Before the Internet, before tissue types could be discerned with a simple cheek swab, before bone marrow donation evolved into something as simple as giving blood, Jay’s mother Arlene organized bone marrow donation drives, mostly at synagogues, throughout the United States. In three years, more than 60,000 people who saw Feinberg’s photo and a simple plea lined up to have their blood drawn and tested to see if their tissues were compatible with his.
From the legions that lined up with the impulse to save a stranger’s life, Feinberg’s mission was born.
“It was remarkable to see this many people willing to do this for a complete stranger,” Feinberg said. “It affirmed my believe in the goodness of people.”
The advances of science have also proven a boost to the ability of donors to share their health with those who are facing blood diseases.
For Jill Goldsmith of Boca Raton the cheek swab used today unexpectedly led to what she calls, “one of the most amazing days of my life.” So much so that the 51-year-old helps organize Gift of Life’s annual Walk for Life, scheduled for Feb. 10.
She had her cheeked swabbed one day and didn’t think much about it until she got a call telling her that she was a match for Westchester County, N.Y. boy who was gravely ill with a disease that could eventually kill him, called marble bones disease.
What Goldsmith did more than five years ago for Matthew Welling still moves mom Susie to tears.
“She has no idea ...” Welling said. “She was instantly a part of Matthew’s life forever. Her blood is inside my son.”