Hanukkah happiness! Stem cell donor meets man whose life he saved

PARK SLOPE — It was the perfect Hanukkah gift.

A Queens man who donated his stem cells to a donor bank got the chance to meet the man whose life he saved, providing a touching moment during a celebratory Menorah lighting ceremony that took place on the first night of Hanukkah in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza.

The meeting between donor Ehud Kadry, 27, and patient Paul Kaplowitz, 69, was arranged by the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, an organization that works to find donors for patients in need of stem cells and bone marrow, and Chabad of Park Slope, the synagogue that hosted the Hanukkah celebration.

Kadry, a sales executive at a Brooklyn electronics manufacturer, donated his stem cells to the Gift of Life Marrow Registry in 2018. That same year, his stem cells were found to be a match for Kaplowitz, a retired pediatric endocrinologist from Alexandria, Virginia, who was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome in 2014 and was in desperate need of a donor.

The meeting between the donor and the recipient took place at the lighting of Brooklyn’s largest Menorah on the first night of Hanukkah.

Myelodysplastic syndrome is a potentially dangerous blood condition that if left untreated could lead to full-blown leukemia.

In 2018, Kadry donated his stem cells at Weill Cornell Medical Center. In July of 2018, the stem cells were flown from New York to the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Kaplowitz was awaiting a transplant procedure. The transplant was successful and Kaplowitz is in remission.

The donor and recipient had never met because of the privacy rules the Gift of Life Marrow Registry operates under. Under the regulations, donors and patients must remain anonymous to each other for a period of a year after a medical procedure.

But when it came time to have the two men finally meet, the Gift of Life Marrow Registry worked with Chabad of Park Slope to make it happen.

“I was just happy to do this. It was really nothing for me,” said Kadry, a father of two. “It made me think about how a simple donation can have a huge impact on other people. Losing some stem cells that will grow back is nothing compared to what you are giving to someone in need.”

Kaplowitz, who said “things looked very grim” for him prior to the transplant, added that he was grateful. “I have been healthy for the past year,” he said. The crowd cheered.

Kaplowitz said he was also grateful to have had the opportunity to look Kadry in the eye and thank him. “I was so happy to finally meet my donor and to express my gratitude for all he’s done,” he said.

The once-in-a-lifetime meeting took place during the ceremonial lighting of Brooklyn’s largest menorah, a 32-foot candelabra, in Grand Army Plaza. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony.

The donor-recipient meeting was part of the Gift of Life Marrow Registry’s “Swab Sameach” campaign, an initiative that encourages people to say “Swab Sameach” instead of the traditional Hebrew “Chag Sameach” (Happy Holiday) for Hanukkah.

“Swab Sameach” is meant to raise awareness of the fact that with a simple cheek swab, anyone can join the marrow registry and become a potential stem cell or marrow transplant donor for a patient battling leukemia or other blood diseases, according to a spokesperson for the registry.

The Gift of Life Marrow Registry, which was founded in 1991, has facilitated more than 17,000 matches for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell and nearly 100 other diseases. The donations have resulted in 3,555 transplants.

There are currently 363,000 individuals who have volunteered to donate blood stem cells or bone marrow in the registry.

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