It’s heartbreaking. Every mother jokes about the first day of school being the beginning of her vacation. Our kids, as much as we love them, are a handful and many a mother will be drained, trying to keep up with their needs during the relatively unstructured summer months.
But then there are the others. The parents who truly cannot handle even one hour without the unbearable tension that accompanies life with a special child. As chaotic as a period of unstructured days may be, the parent of an average child cannot imagine marking her calendar with x’s on the days that he will be home. One father of a special child did just that upon the realization and dread of the block of unstructured days coming up. Unfortunately, he is one of many. Continue reading The “X” Days
It’s 1:30 on a long summer Friday afternoon. There are twelve vehicles parked in the parking lot of Park Enav in Modi’in. The doors open and fifty-eight (!) children burst out of the cars ready for an afternoon of fun. Who are they?
Each one has a different story but the common denominator is that each one is living through a nightmare that no child should ever know. One has lost a parent to cancer, another is battling cancer himself and a third came home one day to find that his mother had gone on a simple shopping trip never to come home again due to a terror attack. Continue reading Nightmare: the Common Denominator
Many years ago there had been a place called Lottie’s kitchen. It was a small kitchen in a home teeming with chessed. Lottie, a culinary expert, produced trays and trays of goodies which were largely consumed by her many friends. They would gravitate to this island of warmth and compassion to discuss their personal woes with a woman who seemed to have never-ending patience.
Lottie and her husband and partner in chessed, Chaim, have since passed on. Their four daughters deemed it appropriate to found Lottie’s Kitchen in Israel under the auspices of Ezer Mizion. It is there that nutritious, attractive meals are produced, packed and delivered to family members sitting at the bedside of a hospitalized loved one. Women of all ages volunteer– from teens to the sprightly 85-year-old golden-ager who makes her way to Lottie’s Kitchen with a walker. She had been a chef in her younger years. Her day at Lottie’s Kitchen enables her to make use of her skills and offer advice to the younger set. For the elderly, it is a two-way chessed as it enables them to have structure to their day and meet with similarly minded women as they work.
Israel hospitals do not provide more than basic medical care for its patients. The nursing staff is unable to take the time for the little extras that can make all the difference to a patient’s spirit. A family member therefore, tries to be there for as much as possible of the 24-hour day. Running from work responsibilities to home responsibilities and then making a mad dash to take over a shift at the hospital does not leave the caretaker much time or emotional space to even think of her own needs. A coke and a bag of chips from the hospital vending machine will often be her only fare for weeks. Distraught, tense, worn out, a mother will sit with her six year old, trying to distract him from the constant question of “Mommy, when will Hashem make the leukemia go away?”
And then, like an angel, there enters a Lottie’s Kitchen volunteer with a steaming hot, delicious meal. She’ll offer her a chance to talk, to share her story, to ask advice. Mommy can’t believe it. Someone is caring for the caretaker!
Orders are filled – some of them very specific. Any meals left over at the end of the day will be given to the dialysis patients who find it so difficult to go back to normal routine just hours after treatment.
Nechama, the head cook, considers herself just a small cog in the wheel of chessed. But those at Lottie’s Kitchen know that it is she that creates the ambience of giving, of loving. More and more. The Lottie’s Kitchen Family was treated to a trip to pray at the holy places in Israel. Nechama would have loved to join but she realized she would have to cut corners in her cooking. To give ‘her’ people anything less than perfection was unthinkable. So she opted out, citing a quote from the Chofetz Chaim’s book, Ahavas Chessed, that doing chessed is an especially opportune time to pray. ”I won’t lose out at all,” she assured her friends as they boarded the bus.
Lottie’s Kitchen, one of the many divisions of Ezer Mizion, an empire of chessed.
She played matching games when she was a child. True, she wanted very much to win but losing wasn’t the end of the world. Now she is thirty. And losing this ‘matching game’ would be the end of her world… the end of her life.
She had been experiencing strong back pains for several months. When the pain intensified, she visited her doctor. Tests revealed that she had lymphocytic leukemia. Radiation and chemotherapy were not enough. Due to the aggressive character of the illness, she would have to have a stem cell transplant asap. Within a few, short weeks! “We are in a race against time,” explained Dr. Itai Levy, head of the Hematology Department in Soroka Hospital.
Some people buy lottery tickets every week and sit by the phone waiting for Arela to call. I didn’t buy any ticket but I got the call anyway. Or so it seemed. In fact, it was even better. Better than winning the lottery. I got a call saying I was the only one in the world that can save the life of a thirteen-year-old boy with leukemia. Can you imagine what that felt like? Saving a life. That’s the ultimate in goodness, in honor. And it was awarded to me! Continue reading Yair Wins the Lottery and Saves a Life
The many tragedies that Rabbi Chollak, founder of Ezer Mizion, is exposed to in the course of his work did not immunize him against the personal tragedy that struck: About three years ago, Leah, his wife and the mother of his sixteen children, passed away after battling cancer. She was 57. From the start, the doctors had said that for her kind of cancer, you can usually stretch things out for about eight years. Sadly, it did not take even that long; she died a little over a year later.
Rav Chananya Chollak chuckles when he recalls the modest beginnings of Ezer Mizion in 1979 during his shana rishona (first year of marriage).
“Everything was done out of our little apartment. The “receptionist” sat in the kitchen or the children’s bedroom. I sat in a cubicle of sorts at the entrance, and in the half-room sat the people waiting for consultations. Volunteers came to us to work on meals for distribution and they organized themselves in the bedrooms. The medical equipment that we gave out was stored in our home, although how it fit, I cannot imagine. The house was wide open to everyone – people in need, volunteers – all the time.
“Three years later, we felt that the apartment had become too small to accommodate the needs of Ezer Mizion and that the time had come to expand the work of the organization in an orderly manner. We moved to a larger apartment but the organization quickly outgrew that, too. A philanthropist helped us buy the apartment next door. Later on, we rented a few more such places around the city and Ezer Mizion continued providing services for its existing departments and developing further, without a stop. We’ve come a long way, baruch Hashem ((thank G-d).”
At the start, meals were delivered by the Chollaks and their friends to a handful of families. Today, hundreds of meals are delivered each day to family members spending their days at the bedside of a loved one in the hospital. Meals are also provided to afternoon programs for special children, and to families whose exhaustive attention to a patient does not allow them to cook for the rest of the family.
Today, Ezer Mizion works from a countrywide deployment of 57 branches. In addition to the original departments, Ezer Mizion now includes the loan of medical equipment, a hydrotherapy pool, a center for medical counseling and referrals, a division for social services, day nurseries for special needs children, a child development division, assistance for families dealing with mental health challenges, programs for the elderly and more. The organization has a network of over 25,000 volunteers throughout the country. The Bone Marrow Registry, the largest Jewish registry in the world, has close to a million registrants and has facilitated 2700 life-saving transplanted around the globe.
Twelve and Four Equal Sixteen
Not only are Rav Chananya Chollak’s work hours, which include nights, Shabbos, Yom Tov, geared to chessed but even his personal life He is the father of 16 children, four of them adopted.
“I met them in the course of my work at Ezer Mizion. There was a family of immigrants from Iran. Adjusting to a new country can be hard enough. This family found themselves to be living in a nightmare when the mother was stricken with cancer. There were four little children. I came for a home visit and saw the terrible poverty in which they lived. The refrigerator was totally empty. We brought volunteers to help with the child care and delivered daily hot meals for the family that had been living on almost nothing. We provided medical advice and referrals regarding the mother’s treatment. But, sad to say, two years later, she passed away. Things could not get worse, or so we thought until half year afterwards when the father also died of a brain tumor. The four orphans remained all alone.”
“After the shivah, the oldest daughter, who was then 13 years old, came to me,” he says, and in spite of the many years that have elapsed since, his voice trembles with emotion. “She cried when she told me that they were informed that the plan was to split them up among different institutions. Suddenly, she looked me in the eye and asked, “Maybe you could adopt us…?”
“Let me ask you, can anyone ignore such a plea?”
“I spoke with my wife and said to her: ‘It is entirely your decision.’ My wife, Leah A’H, the tzaddeket (righteous woman), agreed to take them,” he said with visible admiration.”
Rav Chollak relates very naturally to the four orphans and explains that they are his children in every respect. “They were little orphans who had simultaneously lost father and mother. True, the beginning was not easy as you can well imagine. But our natural children received them with a lot of love and they became an inseparable part of the family. Today the four are already married and we have grandchildren from them,” he says proudly. (To be continued.)
A full night’s sleep is a rare luxury for Rav Chananya Chollak, founder of Ezer Mizion. Those that need him are told that they can call anytime and they do. It is not unusual for his phone to ring at 3:00 A.M. Rav Chollak hears a panicky voice of a son, whose father is terminally ill and on oxygen. “The tank is almost empty! What should I do?!” Rav Chollak’s soothing, caring voice calms the son. Another tank arrives almost immediately. Rav Chollak does not return to his bed until he is certain that it has come, is set up and the father is doing well. His phone remains at his bedside, ready for the next opportunity to help another Jew. Continue reading Behind the Scenes at Ezer Mizion with its Founder, Chananya Chollak – A Three Part Series
A potential donor’s initial contact with Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry begins with a cheek swab sample. This will enable the registry to make a preliminary determination regarding the compatibility between the donor and a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. His genetic information will remain on the database for decades, available for any patient whose DNA matches his. Some potential donors are contacted for further testing within a year of registration, others not for 10-20 years or not at all.
Once it had been determined that a donor is a possible genetic match, things move quickly. When a patient is in need of a bone marrow transplant, time is of essence. Further testing must be done and it cannot wait. Should the patient’s condition deteriorate, the transplant, his last chance to survive, may no longer be medically feasible.
Often, if a great deal of time has elapsed since registration, the contact info is no longer valid. The internet is then surfed until the donor is located. No effort is too much when a human life is involved.
The donor is then asked if he would like to donate. The procedure is entirely voluntary and the donor has the right to refuse at the outset or at any time. No persuasion is used leaving the decision completely up to the potential donor.
In most cases, it is a stem cell transplant rather than a bone marrow transplant that takes place. This is a much simpler procedure which results in a higher percentage of potential donors agreeing to go ahead.
What do we mean by genetic match?
Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are proteins that are present in most body cells. These antigens help identify tissue types. The immune system utilizes HLAantigens in order to identify the cells that belong in your body and the cells that do not belong in your body. If the immune system detects cells that do not belong on your body, it will reject them, thus resulting in a failed transplant.
HLA proteins are important in determining the compatibility of donors and patients for a stem cell transplant. In order to match tissue types for a transplant, the compatibility of ten of the donor and patient antigens are checked (generally, A, DR, C, B, and DQ).
Usually, a compatibility of at least 8 out of 10 antigens is necessary in order to approve a donor for a transplant.
In addition to the basic testing, Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry is committed to supporting research to enhance results of transplants and the donor may be asked to participate in this research as part of the donation process. The decision whether to participate in the research is up to the donor.
Three weeks to several months may elapse until the patient’s attending doctor will come to a decision. The Registry staff will call the donor to inform him of the results of the compatibility confirmatory testing.
The donor may be asked to donate immediately or to wait until the patient is ready. Each case is different; the timing of the donation will be based upon what is best for the donor and for the patient. After a date has been set, the preparatory stage will continue.
At the preparatory stage before the donation, the donor will speak with the Registry staff in order to learn about the process and the risks and side effects involved in giving a donation. If he chooses to donate, he will undergo blood tests and a physical examination by a physician. A detailed questionnaire is also required in addition to a signed consent form.
Increasing Stem Cells in the Donor
On the day of the transplant, blood is taken from the donor, much the same as if he were donating blood. The stem cells are harvested from the whole blood and the remainder returned to the donor through the second arm. The process is repeated for several hours until the required amount of stem cells (depending on the size of the patient) is obtained. So that a large amount of stem cells be available, the donor receives neupogen injections several days before the transplant to stimulate the release of stem cells from the bone marrow into the blood stream.
When the required amount has been accumulated, the stem cells are then infused into the body of the patient through a central line, a painless procedure. Within 2 days to several weeks, the new cells will begin to produce red cells, white cells and platelets in place of the defective ones, thus producing a cure for many life-threatening diseases.
Bone Marrow Registry Anonymity
By international law, a registry must maintain confidentiality and strict non-disclosure of donor and patient information. This policy is for the protection of both the donor and the patient.
In order to maintain confidentiality of information, donors and patients receive an identification number. These ID numbers enable doctors to share important medical information without using names or addresses. This high level of privacy is maintained throughout the stages of the process.
Patients are informed only of the age and gender of their donor. Donors are told only of the age, gender, and disease of the recipient patient.
The patient’s identity may be revealed only after at least a year has elapsed from the date of donation and the patient has expressed his agreement to disclosure and a meeting. This meeting understandably will be highly emotional with the patient and his family trying to express the unexpressable: You saved my life!