Perfect match: How Birthright alumni saved the lives of 100s of strangers – The Jerusalem Post

By daniellenierenberg

Whoever saves a single life is considered by the Talmud to have saved the whole world.

In August 2013, Jeffrey Altadonna, who was on a Birthright trip, was tested at a bone marrow testing drive at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel.

It was perfectly ordinary summer day when the 29-year-old accountant from Sherman Oaks, California received the fateful phone call.

A 77-year-old woman from Los Angeles was the perfect stranger that he was deemed to save.

Diane Gebel, a widow from Cyprus, California was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Her husband had passed away right before she was diagnosed with cancer.

For an entire year, the donor and recipient need to remain anonymous to each other, but last week, the time came for the two to finally meet.

The two were honored at the Los Angeles One Huge Night Gala event hosted by Gift of Life.

In a statement, Birthright Israel explained that the gala also celebrated the successful 15-year partnership of Birthright Israel and Gift of Life.

This partnership has so far resulted in 83,000 Birthright donors joining the registry, with 1,900 matches made between patients and Birthright donors, and 241 life-saving transplants to date.

Prior to the meeting, Altadonna recalled his Birthright trip explaining that it was really great to see that part of the world, to go to where its our given right to visit.

It had a profound effect on my friendships and cultural Jewish identity to see that Jewish people are one people, and we have each others backs, he said. It left me with the feeling that I had backing in anything that I wanted to do in my life. It really felt like a family.

He recalled that after being swabbed at the drive, he didnt really think too much of it because everyone did it.

I got the donation call 15 months ago, he explained, adding that he immediately decided to donate. I find it very bizarre, that everyone is telling me Its such a great thing that you are doing. For me, it wasnt an option to say yes or no, its just, Okay, lets do this, Im a match. Im surprised that more people dont donate.

After doing preliminary tests, he took the plunge and donated.

I had to do it early in the morning, it lasted 6-8 hours a marathon blood donation and it was finished,Altadonna continued. It didnt seem all that hard to me.

He made it clear that this opportunity to help only came about because of the Birthright Israel and Gift of Life collaboration.

It wasnt a mission of mine. I wouldnt have gone out of my way to get swabbed, so it only happened as a result of their collaboration, he said.

In an emotional meeting, the two finally met. Of the meeting, Gebel stressed that she is here because of my selfless and generous donor.

For me, it was easy, I just had an infusion, but for him it was hard, she said. It takes a very special person to do that, to actually give the gift of life.

Gebel said she had been waiting to meet him.

I didnt know he was such a good looking guy, Gebel joked. Im here because of him. I was not ready to die. I had too much to live for.

She stressed that she has changed because of my new life.

I take risks, I live my life fully, she explained. My motto has always been that I want to go through life with a Cosmopolitan in one hand and a travel book in the other. Because of my donor, I can do that, so I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

Altadonna called on others to also take the plunge by getting tested and donating.

I stand here for my recipients valor, for her victory. I ask you to do the same: sit and swab today, so someone can swim and live tomorrow, he said.

Birthrights International CEO Gidi Mark said he was proud of our participants who register as donors and the powerful impact of such a simple choice when they get the call that they are the perfect match for a perfect stranger.

It is a great honor that Birthright Israel is able to assist in this mission, he added.

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