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Thousands mourn death of marrow transplant toddler

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Ayelet Yakira Galena

MONTREAL — “Baruch Dayan Ha’emet,” (Blessed be the true Judge).

Those words, recited when we receive news of a tragedy, ran over and over again last week on Facebook’s Ayelet Yakira Galena’s fan page, as hundreds wept and expressed their condolences over the Jan. 31 death of two-year-old Ayelet Galena Poupko.

Ayelet died at 5 a.m. in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, five months after receiving a bone marrow transplant on Aug. 30, 2011, for a rare and deadly condition that causes bone marrow failure.

“With unstoppable tears and broken hearts, we regret to announce… after hours of fighting and holding on, our precious Ayelet, the light and strength for so many, could not fight anymore,” her parents Seth Galena and Hindy Poupko Galena said in a statement on a blog site devoted to their young daughter’s fate, Eye on Ayelet (ayeletgalena.tumblr.com).

The sad ending culminated weeks of up-and-down crisis for the toddler, whose fate had been followed by thousands.

In December, Hindy Poupko Galena, the daughter of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko and his ex-wife, Arna Poupko Fisher, told The CJN that despite the fact that Ayelet’s transplanted marrow was a “seven-out-of-eight” match after a search of many months, she still faced numerous, potentially life-threatening hurdles.

The situation remained “precarious,” Poupko Galena said at the time. (Poupko Fisher also lives in Cincinnati and was a constant presence at her granddaughter’s bedside.)

And it was indeed precarious. Over the five months, little Ayelet faced several life-threatening situations that raised euphoric hopes for family and supporters when she rallied one day, and despair the next when another crisis arose.

On her last day, Ayelet “put up a serious fight, but her lungs collapsed, her blood pressure dropped, and the blood could not get to her huge heart,” her parents said.

In an entry on The Sisterhood, a blog at Forward.com, the story of Ayelet’s transplant and decline was chronicled, with photos of her dressed in “frilly frocks” that later gave way to the reality, “myriad tubes and machines connected to Ayelet’s swollen body and bald head (which was always lovingly covered with floral hats and headbands).”

The Forward blog also notes how her parents would celebrate Shabbat at their daughter’s bedside and recite “the post-bathroom Asher Yatzar, so that Ayelet’s kidneys might again begin working (‘We need a big night of peeing and prayer,’ they wrote on Jan. 30),” the day before her death.

Before the transplant, Ayelet’s search for a marrow donor had captured the imagination of New York media and celebrities, among them Rihanna, Eva Mendes and 50 Cent, all of whom had recorded supportive messages on her behalf.

On Ayelet’s Facebook fan page last week, however, word of her death spread rapidly to her more than 5,000 followers.

“I am sitting here in Israel, tears streaming down my face for someone I never personally met,” said one message.

“Am Yisroel is in mourning,” said another.

About a week before Ayelet’s death, her parents said the gestures of support they received from the public “are the single reason we are [still] standing.”

“People are only dealt the cards they can handle,” Hindy Poupko Galena had told The CJN three months after the transplant.

Funeral services for Ayelet took place Feb. 1 at the Jewish Centre in New York’s Upper West Side, where her parents live.

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