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Gift of Life and Hillel find bone marrow donors for thousands in need

by Monica Sager | Oct 6, 2020 |

Ryan Woloshin - With Bill BegalWith a giant cotton swab, Ryan Woloshin scratched the inside of his cheek in January 2014. The sample was then repackaged and sent to a lab to identify human leukocyte antigen  markers in his blood and bone marrow. 

Woloshin, who was working as the director of Jewish student life for the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, hoped to be a bone marrow match for someone in need. 

Three years later, Woloshin was called into action to save a 54-year-old man with myelodysplastic syndrome, a precursor to leukemia. The transplant was a success.

Almost each day, a new match for a lifesaving transplant occurs within the Hillel International community through the organization’s partnership with Gift of Life: Bone Marrow Registry. Just this past week, a 63-year-old and a 74-year-old woman, both battling acute myelogenous leukemia, found matches. Within the same timeframe, a 7-year-old girl fighting severe aplastic anemia and a 62-year-old man with myelodysplastic disorder found matches as well.

Hillel International has partnered with Gift of Life since May 2004 to recruit college students and faculty as potential donors and raise awareness about the impact they can have with bone marrow transplants.

“We want every college student to understand that they have the power to save a life by participating in a bone marrow registry,” former Hillel International President Avraham Infeld said in 2004. “Hillel is pleased to be playing a leading role on campus in promoting bone marrow registration.”

Gift of Life has completed almost 69,000 swabs. Hillel International has contributed to finding 2,352 matches, which has resulted in 362 transplants to date.

Students and faculty simply swab their cheeks, and if a match is found, bone marrow is collected through peripheral blood.

Bone marrow transplants are used to treat certain cancers, like leukemia and lymphoma, as well as other malignancies and immune disorders. By expanding the registry of potential donors, the likelihood of finding matches for patients increases. 

Through a community of over 550 colleges and universities, Hillel International has been able to facilitate many of these life changing moments.

Ari Goldstein, a former University of Maryland Hillel student, and Esther Bogin’s story started in April 2015.

Goldstein swabbed his cheek after his friend Jared Stein, a Gift of Life donor who has been honored for his notable volunteer work, explained how easy it was to join the registry.

A year later, Goldstein got a call saying he was a match for a patient.

That patient was Esther Bogin, a 50-year-old Virginia resident who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in July 2015. Bogin, who was also a member of the Gift of Life registry herself, first had an autologous stem cell transplant, but more tumors appeared.

The chance of Bogin’s sibling being a match is only 25%, and, as is the case for most patients, her brother wasn’t a match. But Goldstein was.

“I was motivated to do whatever I could to serve this patient in need,” Goldstein said in an interview with Gift of Life. “I felt confident the entire time that I wanted to go forward.”

After four days of Neupogen injections to bring more stem cells into the bloodstream, Goldstein made his donation on Sept. 19, 2016.

Bogin’s transplant was tremendously successful, and she was able to recover and return to work. On April 21, 2017, Bogin and Goldstein met at a Hillel Basketball Tournament. 

“I was once just like you,” Bogin told the crowd of college students, according to a Gift of Life story. “I was in my last year of college and was called to join the registry at a drive. I hoped I could potentially save someone’s life. But in joining I never thought that, in return, someone would be saving mine!”

For more information about this program, contact Debbie Rauh at drauh@giftoflife.org or visit www.giftoflife.org.

Monica Sager is part of the inaugural Hillel International Writers Program, a five-month opportunity for Jewish undergraduate students interested in journalism.





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