Saving A Life

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Joe Berkofsky Special to the Jewish News

Troy man receives bone marrow donation.

In a deeply emotional meeting earlier this month, a Michigan man who was battling blood cancer not long ago finally learned the identity of the Atlanta man who saved his life with a bone marrow donation through the Gift of Life Marrow Registry.

Bernard Weiner, 70, of Troy and Judah Berger, 22, of Atlanta, met for the first time at the Gift of Life Campus Ambassador Symposium at the Boca Raton Marriott. Weiner had received a bone marrow transplant from Berger after a search of Gift of Life’s registry showed they were a match.

Berger, a former Gift of Life Campus Ambassador and now a New York City resident, joined Gift of Life’s registry at a swab drive when he was 18. Weiner was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Disorder, a blood cancer, and had run out of options; the one treatment left was a marrow transplant. Berger agreed to donate his bone marrow for the lifesaving transplant, but due to strict confidentiality laws, neither knew the other’s identity until now.

Berger, who has hosted people who had nowhere to celebrate Friday night Sabbath dinners, said his upbringing shaped his decision to donate. “In the Torah, it says you should help a stranger 36 times, even though it might be counterintuitive,” he told the Gift of Life Campus Ambassadors. “Know that you will make a difference.” Turning to Weiner, he added, “We are living proof.”

Bernard Weiner of Troy, left, received a bone marrow donation from Judah Berger.
Bernard Weiner of Troy, left, received a bone marrow donation from Judah Berger.

Weiner described the complications he experienced after chemotherapy and his transplant. “I am sure Judah’s cells helped me fight that off,” he said. At one point, Weiner was about to receive a transplant from a different donor, only to learn it was called off for medical reasons. He was fortunate to have more than one possible donor in the registry; not every patient can find even one donor.

“I guess it was really meant to be,” he said, after embracing Berger. “My family told me to give him a big hug for them.” Weiner, his wife, Harriet, and their daughter, Robyn, and grandchildren Jakob and Rebekah all belong to Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy.

“It’s been a journey,” Weiner said. “Naturally, I’m becoming a little more spiritual. I say my own little prayer at night, and I figure someone is watching over me and my donor. I never did that before.

“I’ve had a lot of people of different religions praying for me,” he said, including hundreds of people from the National Stuttering Association, of which he is a member. “I really feel that helped get me through this journey.”

Since its start in 1991, Gift of Life has grown the registry to more than 308,00 individuals who have volunteered to donate blood stem cells or bone marrow to save a life. In the process, Gift of Life has facilitated more than 15,000 matches for those with a range of blood cancers, resulting in more than 3,300 transplants. To learn more, visit giftoflife.org.

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