In my first few weeks at Stern, I read through every single student email, thinking that if I didn’t, I would fail and need to drop out. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. However, by reading one of these emails, I was asked if I was interested in volunteering at a Gift of Life drive. Unsure of what I had even signed up for, I decided, “Why not?”
On the day of the drive, I arrived at NYU’s Chabad and helped out with the swabbing process. I began to ask questions about the technicalities behind the whole operation. I was told that these swabbing kits were sent to a laboratory in Florida where each person would be entered into the international bone marrow registry. After I realized what was happening, I was in complete shock. That’s it? Sixty seconds of my time and then I can be tested to see if I am a match for a patient with blood cancer? Me, just a naive freshman in college, can potentially save a person’s life? I was simply told, “Yes.”
I was given—right there, on this random night—the opportunity to give someone a second chance at life. I told myself I must get involved in this program. A few weeks later I found myself meeting the man who founded this wonderful organization. He had received an honorary doctorate from our very own, Yeshiva University. His name is Jay Feinberg, and he too was once a patient hoping someone out in the world would be his life-saving match.
After discovering he had leukemia in 1991, Mr. Feinberg’s family could not come to terms with the fact that he did not have a match. Since a person diagnosed with leukemia has only a one-in-four chance in matching with family members, and unfortunately, none of his siblings were matches, Mr. Feinberg’s family decided to take action. They ran about 250 drives and tested 60,000 potential donors. Although they found matches for many other patients, there was no success for Mr. Feinberg.
After some time passed with no match found, the Feinberg’s decided to go through with a partial match. As the days drew near, Mr. Feinberg’s family friend from Chicago called him and asked, “Can I please just run one more drive?” Mr. Feinberg’s family had lost hope and assumed there was nothing left to lose.
On that day of this last-minute drive, one of the volunteers called in sick and sent her sister in her stead. As a responsibility of the volunteers, they were all expected to swab their own cheeks once the drive was closed to the public. Despite being under the legal age, she secretly tested herself too.
Later that day, Mr. Feinberg was told he had a match. The last donor to be tested at the very last drive, who had volunteered only as a favor to her sister, saved Mr. Feinberg’s life.
After these indescribable few years, Mr. Feinberg and his family knew they had an obligation to continue their amazing work. Today, the Gift of Life is one of seventy international bone marrow registries running drives at campuses and cities across the nation.
Why do I feel the need to share this story with you? Because we don’t realize what we have in the palms of our hands. Each one of us, no matter how old, or where we come from, can have the ability to save a life, to change someone’s world.
Go out, spread the word to your families and friends. Tell them about the need for people to enter the bone marrow registry, and of course, to get swabbed at Gift of Life’s next drive on campus. Every year, the Gift of Life holds a campaign called Match Madness (similar to the notable but very different March Madness) in which schools from across the country compete to involve new donors and volunteers. Though Yeshiva University just finished this year’s campaign, this cause is a constant campaign to which we must devote ourselves. It is larger than one person, one community, one voice. Let’s consider how we can help and begin.