The Gift of Life

April 11, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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A Sydney-based lawyer whose life had been doomed through an aggressive case of leukemia will shortly meet the American whose stem cells were a perfect match…granting him the Gift of Life.

Fred Swaab

Fred Swaab

The stem cell package which saved Fred Swaab's life

The stem cell package which saved Fred Swaab’s life

In 2010, 64-yr-old Fred Swaab returned from a trip to Korea feeling decidedly unwell and his doctors, suspecting cardiac problems ordered an angiogram. Preparing for the procedure involved a blood test and it was then that the lawyer learned that there was something seriously wrong with his blood. Following further complications, Swaab was told  that he had an aggressive form of leukemia and without a bone marrow transplant his life was severely threatened. He told J-Wire: “Annabelle, the transplant manager looking after my case, knew I was Jewish and told me she was going to check the Gift of Life database in the United States.”

This gave cause for hope but not for certainty. The medical authorities are happy to get a 6/8 match but even then the odds were around 1 in 10,000. But the Gift of Life found Dovid a 21-yr-old Baltimore man who had an 8/8 match. Swaab continued: “Even then, I knew that I still had only a 30-40% chance of survival. But I was amazingly fortunate…even to the extent that the Gift of Life found a back up too.”

A courier personally took the highly unusual 8/8 match by plane from Baltimore to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital…a journey of 20 hours. David’s stem cells were infused into Fred in March 2011.

The stem cell transplant was successful and a healthy Fred Swaab will take his wife Judy and daughters Nikki and Jessica next month to New York where he will physically meet the man who saved his life.

Swaab added: “Only recently one of my doctors, Sam Milliken, told me that recent bloodtests show that I have the blood of a person who has never had leukemia. Of all the highlights in my life, meeting Dovid will be up there with the best of of them.” Swaab said that he and Dovid speak regularly on the phone but both of them are keenly looking forward to the day next month when they will physically meet.


Shula Endrey-Walder runs Gift of Life in Australia. She told J-Wire: “In October 2010 soon after swimming in the National Championships, Fred was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia-ALL with the complication of a Philadelphia chromosome. ALL is a life threatening condition which may be cured by exchanging the Leukaemia cells with matching healthy ones. Miraculously, that excellent match was found for Fred on the Gift of Life USA Register and the 21 year old man was thrilled to donate his healthy stem cells in order to save the life of a complete stranger in the worldwide Jewish Community.

Months later Fred was back at work and expressed his wish to meet his life saving donor not knowing that his donor had at the very same time expressed his wish to meet his recipient. Fred and David will  meet on 21 May 2013 in New York at the Gift of Life USA Gala Dinner.

The life saving possibilities offered by the Gift of Life Australia program involve those who are Jewish or partly so, healthy, 18-45 years old, 50+kg and neither pregnant nor breastfeeding. They are invited to be tested as potential donors.

Gift of Life Australia is holding an enrolment and testing session at the Sydney Jewish Community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut Carnival at Moriah College, Queens Park on Sunday 14 April from 10am-2pm.

A 2 teaspoon blood test is all it takes to see if you could be the one to save a life. As the Talmud says “He who saves one life it is as if he has saved an entire world”.



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