Orange County Jewish Life caught up with Adam Reingold, chief operating officer of Congregation Beth Jacob of Irvine, who recently donated stem cells through the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. Reingold, who started his job February 6, has worked at several Jewish community centers and child protective services. He holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from American Jewish University.
How did you get involved in stem cell donation? I attended the University of Arizona and was an AEPi. I had to fulfill philanthropy hours for my fraternity. I saw the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation representatives on campus and decided to get a cheek swab to see if I could be a match to help save lives. I just happened to walk by almost 10 years ago, so it’s surreality that my batch was a match. It’s so potentially random, but maybe Hashem (God) had a hand in it.
What is Gift of Life? Gift of Life began more than 20 years ago when the founder and executive director, Jay Feinberg, was diagnosed with leukemia and told that his only hope of survival was a bone marrow transplant. Jay’s doctors told him that his best chances of finding a match was with someone of similar genetic ancestry and Jay, who is of Eastern European Ashkenazi descent, would have a difficult time finding a match. Jay’s family and friends launched bone marrow recruitment drives to find his match, testing more than 60,000 donors over the course of four years. In a final hopeful effort, one last drive was run, Jay’s perfect match was found and the Gift of Life registry was born.
How does Gift of Life Work? Today, Gift of Life’s registry has more than 201,000 donors and has facilitated more than 2,400 matches for patients in need. Every year, there are 10,000 patients in the United States who are affected with life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and their best or only hope for a cure is from an unrelated bone marrow, blood stem cell or umbilical cord blood transplant. Approximately 75 percent of patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family
How did you get chosen as a donor? Donors are chosen based on genetics and tissue typing. I was chosen because my tissue typing was the best match for the particular patient needing the bone marrow. In the best-case scenario, a patient will have multiple matches, and each potential match goes for further testing to find out which potential donor will be the best one. Not all patients are this lucky and may only have one potential match, while others do not have any.
I donated through Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. The call went to my parents (my permanent address from college). I was living in Santa Monica, getting ready to move to Irvine to start my new job. I thought it would be difficult to do this when packing up and getting ready to start a new job, but I was mentally prepared to do it. Beth Jacob has been an amazingly supportive community that values life and values this mitzvah.
I was originally slated to be a backup, but then I found out that I would be donating stem cells instead of bone marrow. There was a real sense of urgency. I was flown to Boston twice. The organization made all the arrangements and was very sensitive to my needs.
What is the process? Upon being called as a match, I went through a process called “confirmatory typing” where additional blood was drawn to see if I was the perfect match for this patient. Once determined that I was the perfect match, I went through an information session where Gift of Life explained both donation processes – bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells. Following the information session, I underwent a complete physical exam. Five days before my donation date, I received injections of Neupogen to boost the amount of stem cells that I had already produced in my body.
On the day of my peripheral blood stem cell donation, I was hooked up to a cell separating machine that collected blood stem cells. There were five hours of pumping to collect the stem cells.
Once the donation was complete and enough cells were collected, a courier took my cells to the patient for the transplant! It was so so cool to see this happen. They literally hand the bag right over. As soon as I am disconnected from the machine, the stem cells get rushed to somewhere in the world, so someone can have a new lease on life! There is no “passing go,” because there is such a great sense of urgency.
When can you meet the recipient? Under the laws of the United States, both parties are required to remain anonymous for 1 year following the donation. Only age, gender, and diagnosis are released. After a year, if both parties consent, then we can meet. All the information I was given about the person in need prior to my donation: woman, age 51, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).
How do you feel about the experience? There’s no feeling like giving someone a second lease on life. I celebrated Passover with my family afterwards feeling that most likely the recipient would get to celebrate another Passover.
How can someone become a donor? There is no fee to join the registry; however, Gift of Life accepts donations to help offset the costs associated with testing. Each test kit costs $54. There are currently thousands of kits that are waiting to be processed. I did not pay for my kit (I was in college), but it was sponsored by the generosity of someone else. I am excited to “pay it forward,” and give someone else the opportunity to save a life. This is also an idea for people over the age of 60 or who are medically ineligible to donate. Even though they are unable to be donors themselves, they can sponsor a kit for someone else.
Gift of Life runs hundreds of recruitment drives around the country every year registering new donors. If people are unable to attend a drive, they can order a kit directly to their home by visiting www.giftoflife.org. Joining the registry requires a swab from the inside of your cheek. These samples are then sent to the lab where the cells are analyzed and the volunteer donor’s tissue typing is placed in an international public registry. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60.