A routine blood test done during the IDF induction process led Idan Dukatch, a soldier from Ashkelon, to the opportunity to save a life. His bone marrow donation was transplanted to Alex Katz, a 17-year old boy from New Jersey with cancer. At the end of a nerve-racking half year, waiting for updates on Katz's condition, Dukatch finally received a letter telling him that the boy recovered and regained his health - all thanks to his donation. In a moving encounter orchestrated by Ezer Mizion, the two came together at a tear-jerking meeting. Dukatch: "I saw him and it was an amazing feeling. I think about his family every day."
"Whoever saves one Jewish life, it is as if he saved an entire world," so wrote the Mishnah almost two thousand years ago. Not many people have the privilege to actually save a life, but those who do will tell you of a lofty feeling, something they will take with them for the rest of their lives.
If you ask Idan Dukatch from Ashkelon, who serves as a squad commander in the IDF, you'll understand just how powerful that feeling is. With a simple bone marrow donation, Idan was able to save the life of Alex Katz, a 17-year-old boy from New Jersey, who will never forget this huge kindness. "Suddenly, you see the boy in the flesh, and it's an amazing feeling. I think about them every day. They are sort of a second family to me. I feel that the same blood flows in our veins," Dukatch said this week.
Since 2005, conscripts reporting at the IDF induction center are given the opportunity to stop at an additional station in the induction chain and join the Ezer Mizion International Bone Marrow Donor Registry. All it takes is a simple blood test. Indeed, since then, the number of potential donors in the registry has risen significantly.
Dukatch, too, went through the same process in August, 2009, and then went on to his army service without giving the matter a second thought. Over a year ago he got a phone call informing him that he has a chance to save the life of a boy with cancer, and he agreed without hesitation. And now, the two met in a moving ceremony arranged by Ezer Mizion. In the interim, Alex recovered completely, and Dukatch is thrilled to have been given the privilege of saving the life of this beaming, young man, whose whole life lies ahead of him.
Idan described the encounter with Alex.
"According to the rules, you can only hear about the recipient's condition at the end of the first year, and after two years, you can meet him. In practice, a half year after I made the donation, I received an anonymous letter from the boy in English, telling me that he was feeling okay. He just told me thank-you, but I understood that he was not from Israel. Three weeks later, they asked me if I want to meet him. I met him in a special way, at a bone marrow donation awareness-raising event that took place in New Jersey. He and his father were invited there in order to thank Ezer Mizion, and the plan was that I would surprise them and come in at the end to give him a hug, and that is what happened. The father got up on stage and thanked the people at Ezer Mizion, and then there was music, and I came in from the back door. It was a very emotional moment. He understood that I traveled all the way from Israel to meet him.
What is his condition now?
"He is absolutely healthy. Of course, he still looks a bit weak. After years of being confined to his bed, suddenly, all at once, he has to return to routine, to mental efforts that he is not used to. It isn't easy making that adjustment. He has what looks like an absolutely normal routine for a healthy boy, but for him, it's something new."
Do you keep up contact?
"I was invited to the family for dinner. We did homework together, and then we played music. These are things that didn't happen before. His father kept repeating, "Amazing!" He finally is back at school. I am in touch with his father. His grandfather also made contact with me. It's not a daily or even weekly connection. We write to each other from time to time and send emails. They are planning a trip to Israel in August. I hope to tour with them as much as possible.
What are the chances of finding this kind of match?
"I'm not an expert at statistics. I just know that it is very rare. But it is much easier for Jews to find matching bone marrow. The Jewish people, and especially Ashkenazic Jews hailing from Eastern Europe, are a people that has preserved its identity. We always married just among ourselves, and therefore kept up blood relations. The recipient who received my donation might even be a distant relative of mine. Ezer Mizion had good reason for making a Registry just for Jews; our DNA is very similar."
How does the process of taking bone marrow work?
"There are two techniques. One is by taking blood, from which they draw out the bone marrow. There's also another technique, in which they take material from the pelvic area. By me, the bone marrow was taken from the pelvic area. It didn't really hurt, maybe a little bit right afterwards, but I didn't suffer. It was just fine. It was done under anesthesia. I didn't feel a thing, maybe a slight pain, but not more than that."
What led you to donate a part of your body to someone you don't even know?
"In principle, my father is a doctor, and he recommended that I do it. Besides, I am an IDF soldier. My job is to save people, and here I was given an opportunity to save someone. I immediately understood that it was a matter of life and death. He had cancer, and there was a chance to save him from death. Even after I made the donation, I didn't fully understand the awesomeness of the matter. People told me, "Bravo!" and praised me, but still and all, I didn't really digest how significant an act it was until I met him. Suddenly, I saw a kid who couldn't go to school for three years, who couldn't go on vacation with his family, couldn't even go out to play. He was stuck in the hospital in Boston, confined to bed and cut off from the world. They gave me the opportunity and that's my job as a soldier - to save lives.
Do you have a message for soldiers who chose to skip this station in the induction chain in order to spare themselves one more prick, beyond the two required ones?
"Yes, I do. You are being drafted into the IDF - what for? To defend your country! In the long run, you are doing it in order to save human life. Some soldiers do more than three years in the army and never have the opportunity to reach this moment of saving a life. To save the life of a Jewish soul somewhere in the world - don't forfeit it! Jump at the opportunity! There are a lot of false rumors about how much the shot hurts, but it is simply not true. It is a chance you cannot miss, a tremendous privilege that many never get.