100,000th Birthright Israel participant joins bone marrow registry

100,000th Birthright Israel participant joins bone marrow registry

Mitch Linefsky, left, and Hailey Brooks and Ethan Hornick (Photos courtesy Gift of Life)
Mitch Linefsky, left, and Hailey Brooks and Ethan Hornick (Photos courtesy Gift of Life)

So far, Birthright Israel alumni have contributed 434 life-saving transplants.  Last week, Mitch Linefsky, 20, of Fair Lawn, a student at Tulane University, became the 100,000th participant to join the Gift of Life registry. Mr. Linefsky’s achievement is the result of a nearly two-decade partnership between Birthright Israel and the Gift of Life Marrow Registry. To date, Birthright participants have matched 3,750 patients battling blood diseases.

The Gift of Life Marrow Registry is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and adults battling leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell, other cancers and inherited immune disorders find matching donors for lifesaving blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants. The registry houses its own state-of the-art stem cell collection center, biobank, and laboratory. It focuses on recruiting potential donors who are between 18 to 35 years old. Younger donors tend to lead to better patient outcomes.

“We are very proud of our longstanding, important partnership with Gift of Life,” Gidi Mark, Birthright Israel’s CEO, said. “We are honored to have so many of our participants and alumni committed to such a noble cause. This collaboration perfectly illustrates how the Birthright Israel experience can not only change lives, but also save lives.”

Participants on Birthright’s trips to Israel are offered the opportunity to complete a cheek swab kit and health questionnaire to enter Gift of Life’s registry. When matches are found, Birthright alumni have the opportunity to donate blood stem cells or marrow to save patients’ lives.

Hailey Brooks, 17, a high school senior from Montclair, was diagnosed with severe congenital neutropenia when she was four months old. She got daily injections to increase her neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, and stave off infections, throughout her childhood. In April 2020, when she was 15, a routine blood test showed that Hailey was battling acute myeloid leukemia. She was rushed to the hospital to receive chemotherapy, and a search was immediately started to find her a matching stem cell donor.

That donor, Ethan Hornick, 23, of New York City, had joined Gift of Life’s registry in 2019 while he was in Jerusalem on his Birthright Israel trip. He learned he was a match for a patient in May 2020, only weeks into the pandemic lockdown. At first he was nervous about donating during a healthcare emergency, but he was committed to helping his recipient, no matter what it took.

“I just empathized so much with Hailey that even though I didn’t know her, and couldn’t imagine what she was going through, I thought of her as if she was one of my little sisters,” Ethan said. “I knew I would do anything to help if I could.”

“I’m just so grateful for having a second chance at life I cannot find the words,” Hailey said. “It is very emotional – I was reborn and I cannot thank Ethan enough. I also would like to thank Gift of Life and Birthright Israel for facilitating this.”

“It is an honor to have partnered with Birthright Israel for nearly 20 years on this life-saving endeavor,” Jay Feinberg, Gift of Life Marrow Registry Founder and CEO, said. “The mitzvah of pikuach nefesh is among the greatest of all good deeds that one person can do for another. An incredible one in eight Birthright participants have joined Gift of Life’s registry. That’s 100,000 out of 800,000 Birthright participants! 433 donors have saved the lives of patients battling blood cancer.

“As a transplant recipient myself, thank you to every donor who has joined our registry to make a difference in the world.”