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Saturday, September 20, 2014

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Bone marrow donor hosts his own drive

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Michael Levin and his wife Melissa

TORONTO — About two months ago, Michael Levin, 36, received a phone call that changed the life of someone he has never met.

The caller was from Gift of Life, a Florida-based Jewish bone marrow foundation, and said that Levin was a potential match for an anonymous recipient.

Levin, an investment banker who is married with three children, said he couldn’t even remember being tested. “I realized, though, that eight years ago before my wife and I had children, I had given a swab when we went for genetic testing.”

Based on the information Gift of Life had, he said, he was a 30 per cent match, which meant they wanted to do further testing.

“I took a blood test, and was told I would hear back in about eight to 12 weeks. [Surprisingly, I received word] in seven days that I was a very good match, and I was asked if I was prepared to go forward.

“When I said yes, they explained the risks, and then we had the task of scheduling where and when the donation would take place.”

He chose New York City, he said, – if the recipient is American, the procedure has to be done in the United States – because his company has an office there, and he would be able to do some work.

Gift of Life flew Michael and his wife, Melissa, to New York and accommodated them throughout the entire procedure, known as peripheral blood stem cell collection, which represents the majority of bone marrow donations, he said.

 He was prepped for the donation for five days, he said, and on March 18, he spent several hours hooked up to a transfusion machine giving stem cells.

“It is important to tell my story, because I want people to know that donating bone marrow is not an intrusive process. I received shots for those first five days, which stimulated the production of stem cells, and then I was hooked up to a machine. A Gift of Life representative was with me the whole time.”

He said that the only side effect from the procedure was some muscle ache, “as if I’d used muscles I hadn’t used in a while.”

Melissa, a Grade 1 teacher at Leo Baeck Day School, said, however, that emotionally, the procedure was overwhelming. “From the moment we got the phone call, we were overcome with emotions. We were told that the recipient was a 65-year-old woman, and we thought that Michael was hopefully saving the life of a mother and grandmother.”

Levin said he would do the whole thing over again “without hesitation.”

The Levins are now hosting a bone marrow drive on April 21 at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto and at the Aish Thornhill Community Shul, 949 Clark Ave. W. in Thornhill for four-year-old Jayden Roll from Montreal, who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

“We would love to use this drive to bring awareness of the whole process,” Levin said. “We want to stress that it can be done in a non-invasive way, and that drives are important for the recipient and for building a bank for the community. It is an important thing to do.”

For information, visit cureforjayden.ca.

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