Bone marrow drive could help save a life or several

Berkeley resident Jon Galinson won’t be able to attend Israel in the Gardens this year.

He’ll be recovering from his eighth round of chemotherapy.

Which is why his wife, Yael, and their friends will spend the day at Yerba Buena Gardens encouraging people to register with the National Bone Marrow Donor Program — which could save Galinson’s life.

Galinson, 38, was diagnosed 15 months ago with chronic lymphocyctic leukemia, or CLL, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

Because the chemotherapy has helped but has not eradicated the cancer, Galinson’s greatest hope for good health is a bone marrow transplant — but the chances of two unrelated people having matching bone marrow tissue is about one in a million.

Every day in the United States, there are 6,000 people looking for a bone marrow transplant.

Jon Galinson (left) of Berkeley with his daughters, Gaby and Luli, and wife, Yael. photo/courtesy of yael galinson

To help improve Galinson’s odds, a bone marrow registry drive is going to be taking place at Israel in the Gardens. A foundation anonymously donated its festival booth to the cause, which has been assisted by the Congregation Netivot Shalom community.

“In my heart, I do hope and believe that if enough people register then we can find a match for Jon through this process,”  Yael said.  And if not, she added, the drive will still be worthwhile because “we’ll be getting more and more people registered, so that other people like Jon will be more likely to find a match.”

Signing up involves a medical questionnaire, a cheek swab and a suggested $25 donation to help cover the cost of tissue typing, although no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

There will be a second drive from 1 to 6 p.m. June 14 at Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley. In addition, one can sign up at (type in “JonGalinson” when prompted).

CLL is the second most commonly diagnosed leukemia,  but it usually affects people at age 50 or older, making the diagnosis all the more shocking to the Galinsons, who have two daughters, Gaby, 4, and Luli, 1. “It’s been emotionally challenging,” Yael said of the past year.

The couple kept mum about Jon’s cancer until October 2008, when they finally told a few friends who also send their children to the Netivot Shalom preschool, which Gaby attends.

Yael said they have been grateful for all that the community has provided, including home-cooked meals, play dates for their daughters (when Mom and Dad have to go to a doctor’s appointment), grocery store runs and, of course, emotional support.

“It’s given us an avenue for getting help and support in ways we needed, and to feel less alone in the process,” Yael said.

Moreover, the family feels hopeful because of a local success story.

 Felicia Kramarz of Larkspur joined a bone marrow registry in June 2005 at Israel in the Gardens. But after three years passed., she forgot she had even registered. Then, four months ago, she was notified  that she was a potential match for a 53-year-old male with multiple myloma.

“I never thought I’d be called,” Kramarz said.

She underwent two blood tests, a physical and an EKG before Cornell Medical Center flew her to New York for her donation.

“It was nice to feel I was doing something to potentially save someone’s life,” Kramarz said.

Just days after Israel in the Gardens, she’ll return to New York to make a second donation.


Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.