April 24, 2008
Blood Brothers: How a gift of lifesaving bone marrow united two strangers
Hospitals get crash course in Jewish observance
(Page 2 - Previous Page)For the next six months, Eliezrie experienced the chemotherapy induced pain and nausea, along with bouts of infections caused by graft vs. host disease, a common complication following bone marrow transplantation. However, he slowly began to recover.
"Generally, he's done really well. He's had an occasional setback, but the further out he gets, the better he's done," Sender said. In cases of bone marrow transplantation, "we don't say someone is 'cured,' but I tell him to enjoy life and make plans for the future."
Eliezrie has resumed his studies, transferring to the Chabad yeshiva in Los Angeles in order to be closer to his family and his doctors. As soon as he was able, he requested to contact his bone marrow donor.
"It was amazing," he said about the experience of meeting Price. "It was one of the greatest days of my life. He is not only physically a perfect match but spiritually, also. That's an even greater miracle."
A Bikur Cholim Blood Drive will take place at Nessah on Sunday, May 4 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Please make appointments at www.bikurcholim.net or call (323) 852-1900.
For information about how to register as a potential bone marrow donor, visit www.marrow.org
Hospitals Get Crash Course in Jewish Observance
When Yosef Eliezrie was admitted to UC Irvine Medical Center and later to Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) for treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia, neither institution realized they would be receiving a crash course in Jewish observance. However, after more than two years of exposure to the Eliezrie family and their Chabad community, staff in both hospitals learned about the nuances of kashrut, witnessed what it meant to be Sabbath observant and some even started taking Torah classes.
Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, Yosef's father and director of the North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda, said the staff at both UCI and CHOC "bent over backwards" to accommodate the family's religious practices.
"This wasn't Cedars-Sinai. They'd never had a frum [Orthodox] patient," he said. "We did a lot of meshuggeneh [crazy] things in these hospitals."
Dr. Leonard Sender, Yosef Eliezrie's doctor and the medical director of the cancer centers at both hospitals, concurred with the elder Eliezrie's assessment.
"They tried to find any Jewish doctors that they could get to put on tefillin. They can't help themselves," he said.
Sender, who identifies as a Reconstructionist Jew, declined the tefillin offer, but said that the Eliezries' presence presented a valuable cultural learning opportunity for physicians and staff.
Every Shabbat, Yosef Eliezrie eschewed lights, television or other electronic devices. He would pray with family members or fellow yeshiva students, often receiving more than 20 visitors in the course of a single day.
"They saw a kid who was proud and comfortable as a Jew," said his father. "He was wearing a yarmulke and tzitzis, but he was also tech savvy." (Yosef designed the Web site HelpSderot.com from a hospital bed while being treated for shingles.)
Each week, a van would deliver food prepared for the Eliezries by Los Angeles and Long Beach Chabad families.
"You could fill a country with the food they brought," Sender said.
"We had a remarkable support system," Eliezrie said. "Both hospitals saw the overwhelming sense of community that surrounds us."
Simchat Torah fell while Yosef Eliezrie was critically ill at CHOC. As he lay in his hospital bed, yeshiva students danced around his bed with a Torah. He said that out of respect, hospital staff even set aside a special room for the Torah to be placed when it wasn't being used.
After a discussion between Rabbi Eliezrie and Dr. Eugene Spiritus, UCI Medical Center's chief medical officer, the rabbi began teaching a Torah class at the hospital to Jewish faculty, students and physicians -- including Spiritus. It became a monthly session, which is attended by more than a dozen people and has been going for two-and-a-half years.
A new Torah was started in Eliezrie's UCI hospital room, with a scribe present to write the first words of the text. First, there was a service.
"Yosef had an aliyah, and I had an aliyah...," Spiritus said. And, of course, Spiritus was asked to don tefillen, something he hadn't done since the morning of his bar mitzvah. "One of the rabbis told me, 'You understand, it's God working through your hands.'"
Sender said the exchange of ideas and learning went in both directions. "They met other families who were Hispanic, who were indigent, who were highly educated and not very educated .... They had Filipino nurses and Caucasian nurses and ... Muslim doctors.... The hospital nurses and doctors got a glimpse into the world of Lubavitch Chabad Judaism, and hopefully, they, in turn, got a glimpse into the real world issues we face in taking care of all people."
It appears both parties were affected by what they witnessed. "We learned the remarkable dedication of the medical staff in the preservation of life," Eliezrie said. "These are people who truly care about saving human lives."
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