by: Dr. Itai Gal
After Keren Mansherov was stricken with leukemia for the second time, her doctors decided that she needed a bone marrow transplant. Gal Chanuchiev, who had given a saliva sample during his chain of induction to the IDF, was found to be a perfect match as a donor. Now, a year after he saved his life – the two met. “I looked forward so much to meeting the person thanks to whom I’m here today,” said Mansherov. “It’s great to be alive!”
Every night, when 17-year-old Keren Mansherov closed her eyes, she would try to imagine how the man who saved her life looked.
When the leukemia attacked for the second time around and chemotherapy was no longer effective, the doctors decided that only a bone marrow transplant could save her life. Gal Chanuchiev, then a 20-year-old soldier, was found to be a compatible donor and he did not hesitate for a moment. After a year during which she was not allowed to know the identity of the donor –they finally met each other.
“For a full year, I’ve been waiting to meet this noble man. If it were not for him, I would not be alive today,” says Mansherov. “Every day I remember this joyful moment and get emotional all over again.”
“A Terrible Torturous Journey”
Mansherov was just 12 years old when cancer attacked her the first time. It started with bleeding wounds on her head, black-and-blue marks on her legs, stomach pains, throat aches, and swollen gums. Keren’s parents rushed with her to the family doctor, who noted also an enlargement of the spleen and referred them urgently to the emergency room.
“When we got to the hospital, they told us it would take several hours to get the blood test results,” Mansherov recalls. “But then, just a few minutes later, they took us to a side room. I was frightened. I understood that something not good was going on.” The bitter news was not long in coming: The doctors suspected leukemia of the aggressive AML type.
Mansherov was transferred to Schneider Children’s Hospital and began a long course of chemotherapy treatments. After months of hospitalizations, treatments, and painful tests, she received the good news that her body was free of the illness. But only three years later, the leukemia erupted once again, and this time, in far more severe form. Mansherov now had ALL-type leukemia, which is resistant to chemotherapy treatments.
The doctors, who realized that she was not moving towards recovery, determined that only a bone marrow transplant could save her life.
“I cried then and could think only of death,” she relates. “I was so afraid to die. It was a terrible trauma for a young girl who just wanted to live, to go to high school like all her friends, to have fun and enjoy life. Instead, I had to spend a significant part of my adolescence without hair, hooked up to an IV, going through grueling treatments and experiencing side effects. It was a terrible torturous journey that I just wanted to get out of already.”
Joined – and Went On with His Life
During that period, the day of Gal Chanuchiev’s enlistment arrived. In the course of his chain of induction, he gave in a saliva sample for a potential bone marrow donation. “I didn’t think about it too much,” he says. “I gave a sample, joined Ezer Mizion’s registry and went on with the chain of induction.” Four months after he began his army service, Chanuchiev was informed that complete compatibility was found between his and Mansherev’s bone marrow.
“I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I agreed immediately,” recalls Chanuchiev, now 20, from Hadera. “I read up about the donation procedure and I understood that it’s not such a big deal. It’s pretty much like a blood test.”
Chanuchiev came to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa with his parents. He received advance treatment and began the donation, which took a few hours. He was asked to return the next day to continue the procedure, so as to reach the necessary number of bone marrow cells for transplantation to Mansherov’s body.
“It was an exciting, high-charged day,” he relates. “I got home after the donation was over and I just fell apart. I thought about cancer. I thought about the person who would receive my donation and recover, and I was overcome by emotion. The tears just flowed. Afterwards, I went on with my life, with my army service, with my studies, and with my exercises at the fitness room.”
“During the course of this year, I inquired twice about the condition of the person who received my donation, whom I knew nothing about, and I was led to understand that she recovered.”
Gave Her Hope
Recently, the encounter between the two took place at Ezer Mizion, which directs Israel’s National Bone Marrow Registry. At the organization headquarters, they relate that since the onset of the saliva sample drive, as part of the chain of induction at the IDF, 500 soldiers have already actively donated bone marrow to cancer patients. At the beginning of the month, there will be an event honoring the donating soldiers.
Mansherov and Chanuchiev embraced, with Keren shedding copious tears. After they sat down, Mansherov said: “Now I have a new brother in the family.”
The two began to discover things they have in common: Mansherov asked him if he had small beauty marks all over his body, as appeared by her after the transplant. They were both amazed to hear Chanuchiev reveal that indeed, he has just such marks.
“I still don’t fully grasp that someone is alive today thanks to my bone marrow,” he says, “It is very moving. I didn’t do it to get a pat on the back. I am simply thrilled, and I would not hesitate to do it again. What is giving up one day in your life – to save a human life? The gap between the minor investment of effort and the tremendous contribution it effects is immeasurable.”
Dr. Bracha Zisser, director of Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Registry, says that “A bone marrow donation is a noble act that saves lives, and is a prime example of an act that costs the person nothing while giving so much to the other! This dramatic encounter between the bone marrow donor and recipient prefaced the ceremony that took take place recently at the IDF Induction Base. At the event, for the first time, every soldier who donated bone marrow was awarded an “Enlisting for Life Award” medallion. I am proud of Ezer Mizion’s collaboration with the IDF, which has etched on its banner the ideal of saving lives – the lives of patients as well.”
“It is hard to express my gratitude in mere words,” says Mansherov. “He is an amazing guy for agreeing to save me. For days already, my heart is pounding from emotion. I was so anxious to meet the person thanks to whom I am here today, talking, smiling, happy. He gave me hope again. It’s great to be alive!”