Kansas Jewish leukemia patient is seeking bone marrow match

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Less than three months ago, Brad Schifman, 27, could bound up a flight of stairs with four heavy grocery sacks in his arms. Now he's lucky if he's feeling well enough to leave his house for an afternoon excursion to the mall with his wife, Marjorie, and 5-month-old daughter Hannah.

Schifman, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, was diagnosed in March with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). To be able to bound up those stairs again, he'll need a bone marrow transplant.

But before surgery can take place, the young Jewish man has to wait for a donor whose bone marrow matches his own. Currently, there is no match in the National Marrow Donor Program, an organization that maintains a computerized registry of unrelated, potential volunteer marrow donors.

Neither Schifman's parents, Bob and Madeline Schifman of suburban Kansas City, nor his two older brothers have the matching tissue type Brad needs. The greatest likelihood of finding a match for Brad exists among descendants of Eastern European Jews, like the Schifmans.

That's why Brad's family and friends are sponsoring three bone marrow donor registration drives in the Kansas City area and spreading among the Jewish community nationwide.

The more people who register, the greater the chance of finding a match not only for Schifman, but for hundreds of other people on the waiting list.

"We want to do our part to assist every family dealing with this disease," said Madeline Schifman.

Part of the problem with finding matches for leukemia patients is insufficient awareness of the need among certain ethnic groups, according to Brad's wife, who is a U.S. Army surgeon.

"Mostly Caucasians are in the registry, said Marjorie Schifman. "That's why they are pushing for Hispanic and African American donors. But they don't break it down…They don't know if you are of Scandinavian [descent] or [Polish]. And that's a problem," she explained.

That's why it is so important for Jewish people to register.

"There is a better chance of finding a match among Jewish donors because of a common Eastern European background," she said.

Becoming a bone marrow donor is supported and encouraged by all branches of Judaism.

"Not only should people support it, but they should feel this is an obligation," said Rabbi Morey Schwartz of Overland Park's Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner. "This is the opportunity for someone out there to save a Jewish life, and there should be no hesitation."

While Brad Schifman waits and hopes that a match is found for him, he's been undergoing radiation therapy and chemotherapy. His leukemia is currently in remission, and doctors hope to find a match and do a bone marrow transplant within the next eight months.

Volunteers need only give two tablespoons of blood to determine their tissue type. The procedure usually costs $45.

But it's a small price to pay for a life.

For more information on bone marrow registration, call the National Marrow Donor Program, (800)-MARROW2.