Tuesday, January 31st | 10 Shevat 5783

May 20, 2020 9:56 am

How a Jewish EMT From Israel Donated Bone Marrow to Save an American Muslim Child

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avatar by Yisrael Otmazgin


Members of United Hatzalah of Israel on their way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: Miriam Ballin.

My name is Yisrael Otmazgin. I am a Jewish Israeli, and this is the story of how I saved the life of a Muslim American boy that I never met.

A year has passed since I made a bone marrow donation. I underwent surgery, fully sedated, in order to donate bone marrow to a boy whom I didn’t know — and according to international law, it is forbidden to reveal the identities of the donor or the recipient of the donation.

A few days ago, I received a phone call from the coordinator of bone marrow donations at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. “Shalom Yisrael,” the coordinator began. “The family of the recipient child of your bone marrow wants to contact you, and I know that you have expressed interest in being in contact as well, so please sign a confidentiality waiver and I’ll connect you.”

Twenty-four hours after I signed the waiver, I received a form with contact details and preferred method of contact for the family of the recipient. I learned that the recipient was a young boy in the United States located in the state of Michigan.

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I wanted to immediately contact them, but how could I? I didn’t know whether the boy’s life had been saved. If the boy died, then contacting them would deepen their trauma.

I decided to send a very carefully-worded message. I identified myself as “the donor,” and I wrote that I was very much hoping to save the life of the child who was the recipient.

A few minutes passed and I received a reply. “Hi, This is ******. Israel, thank you so much for saving my son. I cannot thank you enough. I am really excited to meet you too.”

At that moment, there was likely no one happier on the face of the planet than myself. We arranged for a video meeting the next day. As soon as the meeting started, the tears flowed as the mother of the recipient told me what happened to her son:

“My son was born with a rare and debilitating physical ailment called SCID. This disease prevents the body from properly developing an immune system. This means that even the tiniest and most insignificant bacteria or viruses can kill our child. Children like him are kept inside of a ‘vault’ in the hospital to make sure that they do not contract any illness. Their normal life expectancy is less than a year if a bone marrow donor cannot be found. His two older brothers were only a 50% match. But you, from all the people in the bone marrow database, were a 100% match.” (There are close to 44 million people in the database.)

The patient’s mother continued: “Following the transplant, his body responded well to the treatment and there was an immediate improvement in his medical condition. Since then, he has contracted three separate illnesses that are common for young children and his body overcame the illnesses each time. This means that the transplant succeeded. This means that he is also partly your child. He is alive because of you and we have no way to say thank you.”

At this point, we were both in tears.

We continued the conversation, and I introduced their family to my family. They then introduced me to the cute boy whose life I helped save. He was an American Muslim. He is a very sweet boy who is full of life and joy.

I was a bit surprised that here I am in Israel, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, and I saved the life of a Muslim boy in the United States by donating part of my bone marrow to him. After my initial surprise, I realized what kind of connection God made here — a connection of life and love between two people who in regular day-to-day life would likely never meet one another, and if they did meet, might not initially like one another. We all have dreams of what our children will grow to become. Now this family has a chance for their son to realize both his dreams and theirs.

Those who know me know that I am an EMT with United Hatzalah of Israel, the national EMS organization whose volunteers drop whatever they are doing and rush to save lives at a moment’s notice. I also serve in the IDF Home Front Command elite rescue unit as a reservist, and often come across death serving as a Zaka volunteer. With that in mind, I am happy to be involved with anything that can save a life.

I am an Israeli and I live in Israel, yet I saved the life of this young Arab boy in the United States. I am incredibly happy about being able to do so, and I sincerely hope that my story will serve as a guide for the sanctity of life to people all over the world.

Yisrael Otmazgin is married with four children, the most recent of which was born during the Corona crisis in the past two months. He works for a toy company and volunteers for United Hatzalah and Zaka, and is a reservist with the IDF Home Front Command’s Rescue Unit. He lives with his family in Elad.

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