Hopeful donors line up to give marrow, save world

Danielle Rehr-Davis is hoping to begin high school next year.

It might seem like a sure thing. The East Bay girl, who takes part in the Youth Havurah Dan and Shabbaton at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, is now in the eighth grade.

But Danielle's future is uncertain: She has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant to survive. And so far, she has not been able to find a matched donor.

Her best chance of finding a genetic match is among someone of Eastern European, Jewish ancestry.

To that end, a bone marrow registration drive was held Sunday at San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom in an attempt to locate a prized partner not only for Danielle, but also for thousands of others awaiting the precious gift.

Emanu-El's Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, who launched the drive to find "Danielle's lifesaving Chanukah miracle match," said the test is "quick and simple."

A Los Angeles mother of four who suffers from the same illness is also awaiting a transplant. Sharon Bardach Blumenstein, diagnosed during Rosh Hashanah, discovered that none of her relatives and no one listed in bone marrow registries match her type.

At least 19 Bay Area Jewish organizations and synagogues were publicizing the drive.

Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and be in general good health.

Quoting an often-cited proverb in the Talmud, Wolf-Prusan said, "The one who saves another life saves an entire world."

But the odds are stacked against finding a quick match.

New York resident Jay Feinberg finally found his perfect match after four years of trying. And the "Friends of Jay Feinberg," now the Gift of Life Foundation, beat the bushes to produce donors — 50,000 in the first year at college campuses, synagogues and school around the world.

Donors did not give marrow — a procedure that takes 45 minutes to an hour and is done under anesthesia — at the drive on Sunday. During a registry such as the one held at Beth Sholom, technicians draw a small sample of blood — about two or three tablespoons, according to Kaiser Permanente and the Asian American Donor Program. It is later tested for compatibility.

Bone marrow replenishes itself fully within two weeks. Information about donors is taken from a blood sample and kept on file until the donor turns 61.

The synagogue needed to raise enough to pay the $65 it costs to store each sample.

In 1998, 3 million Americans had signed up to donated marrow.

For information about becoming a marrow donor, call Blood Centers of the Pacific at (415) 567-6400.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.