A tale of two sisters

May 5, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Seventeen years ago, Shula Endrey-Walder went to Helen Bashir for help in a new initiative to save lives…and yesterday was invested with the honor of an OAM for her work in the project by Bashir’s sister Marie, Governor of New South Wales.

NSW Governor Marie Bashir chats to Shula Endrey-Walder OAM pic: Reality Media

In 1993, genetic scientist Endrey-Walder read the story of 26-year-old New Yorker Jay Feinberg facing certain death from leukaemia unless a suitable donor for a core blood transplant could be found. Feinberg’s parents sold everything they owned and went on the road touring the Unites States in search of a suitable donor. After no less than 69,000 samples had been taken, a donor was finally found in a yeshiva in Wisconsin…and Feinberg survived.

Realising that the match for his DNA was going to have to come from within the Jewish community and that other groups may be affected genetically too, Feinberg established The Gift of Life Foundation which he still runs to this day.

Endrey-Walder,65, was deeply moved by Feinberg’s story and set about establishing a registry in Australia to help his cause.

The Red Cross is the organisation in Australia responsible for collecting blood samples and Endrey-Walder started her liaison and long-term relationship with its administrator, Helen Bashir.

Endrey-Walder, working with Bashir and the Red Cross, has taken samples from Jewish would-be donors since 1994 to find a match for the terminally ill and for whom the only hope of survival would be locating a suitable donor. The Australian branch of Feinberg’s operation was established in 2006 by Endrey-Walder.

She told J-Wire: “Helen Bashir trained me in my work. She was the head of the Red Cross where I received my background in immunology and cytogenetics. I am very humbled and emotional about receiving this award. I have a great team of volunteers and I want them to know how fantastic they are. We know for sure of seven Australias who would not be alive today had it not been for the project.”

The citation for her Medal of the Order ofAustralia award reads:

“For service to the community through raising awareness of Tay-Sachs Disease and as the Co-Founder of Gift of Life Australia.

Volunteer, Tay-Sachs Disease Community Genetics Screening Program, since 1998; the program screens children and young adults’ carrier status for the Tay-Sachs Disease, an hereditary disorder of lipid metabolism which occurs most frequently in individuals of Eastern European Jewish ancestry and those with French-Canadian ancestry.

Co-Founder, Gift of Life Australia, 2006.

The Gift of Life Australia’s mission is to raise awareness about the lifesaving potential of Stem Cell, Bone Marrow and Cord Blood transplants and to recruit potential donors, particularly those from ethnic minorities, to the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

In 1994, Mrs Endrey-Walder set up a clinic on Sunday mornings at the Wolper Jewish Hospital to take blood samples from people willing to join the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, raising awareness about the issue and facilitating the enrolment of over 5,000 Jewish donors.

Member, Board of Management, Wolper Jewish Hospital, since 1996.

Coordinator, Scarba Volunteer Family Fund, since 1999, under the umbrella of
The Benevolent Society; assists underprivileged children, mothers-at-risk and families-in-crisis.

Volunteer at Our Big Kitchen project; a Sydney Yeshiva program.”

Today, Endrey-Walder flies to New York. She will attend a special function organised by Feinberg at which recipients of life-saving transplants meet their donors….and at which Endrey-Walder will receive yet another award.

With her will be 29-year-old Michael Faust, a Sydneysider who is alive today thanks to a match with Michael Goldfein from San Francisco whose grandmother had died from leukaemia. There was not a dry in the room when the two men met in New York in front of 800 people. This coming function will be no less emotional.

Endrey-Walder was born in Rishon LeZion in Israel and migrated to Australia with her family when she was 12.



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