Two-time transplant recipient meets lifesaver at Hillel tournament
Since 2004, Gift of Life’s partnership with Hillel International has been an incredible success, adding nearly 58,000 donors to the registry resulting in 277 potentially lifesaving transplants. Among those donors is one man who joined Gift of Life’s registry while attending the annual National Hillel Basketball Tournament while he was a student at the University of Maryland.
Ari Goldstein swabbed his cheek in April 2015. His friend Jared Stein, a Gift of Life donor who was honored last year for his notable volunteer work, invited him to join the registry and explained how easy the donation process was. Only two months later, Ari was called as a potential match for a patient, but did not get the opportunity to donate that time and was returned to the registry.
A year later, Ari got the call again, “You’re a match for a patient!” and having been called once before, he was ready to go.
That patient was Esther Bogin, a 50-year-old resident of Virginia who was, herself, a member of the registry. She was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in July 2015, after finding lumps below her jawline.
“When I was diagnosed I was told that, at best, I would live for five more years,” said Esther. She first had an autologous stem cell transplant, where one’s own stem cells are collected then infused back to the patient after chemotherapy treatments. The objective is to kill the cancer and restore the body’s ability to make healthy blood cells.
Just as her life was returning to normal, Esther noticed more tumors. This time a stem cell transplant from another donor would be needed. The chance of a sibling being a match is only 25%, and like most patients, her brother was not a match for her, so her doctors turned to the international registry to search for a possible donor.
Ari was already there, a perfect match for Esther’s immune system, and enthusiastic about having another chance to help someone. “I felt ready and excited because I already understood the process and knew what to expect. I was motivated to do whatever I could to serve this patient in need,” said Ari. “I felt confident the entire time that I wanted to go forward.”
After four days of Neupogen injections to bring more stem cells into the blood stream, Ari donated on September 19, 2016.
Esther said that since she had been through the transplant process before she had no worries, until she learned that the stem cells were coming in by helicopter – during a thunderstorm. Fortunately, the courier arrived safely and Esther’s transplant became a tremendous success as she recovered and was able to return to work.
Later, she wondered about her donor – who was he? Would she ever be able to meet him? Transplants are anonymous for the first year, and as the one-year mark passed, Esther turned in her request to meet her donor and wondered if the wished-for meeting would ever come about. Then Gift of Life invited her to the Hillel Basketball Tournament to meet her donor at the same event where he had joined the registry.
On the night of April 21, the two were introduced by Gift of Life Chairman Bill Begal during a ceremony at mid-court. After a huge hug and applause from those attending, each of them had the opportunity to share their stories.
“I was once just like you,” Esther told the large crowd of college students from across the United States. “I was in my last year of college and was called to join the registry at a drive. I hoped I could potentially save someone’s life. But in joining I never thought that, in return, someone would be saving mine! Today I feel as if I had never been ill.” She encouraged everyone to visit the swabbing table.
Ari, who is now in his first year of medical school, added, “Look at joining the registry as an opportunity. What you can do is so incredible and so important.”
In his free time, Ari enjoys tennis, cooking and reading.
Esther has returned to work at a financial services firm, and volunteers with the SPCA helping to match adoptable dogs with their new families.
Learn more about Hillel International.
Update July 2018: WBAL Interview with Ari Goldstein