SKOKIE — Shalom Klein has done a lot in a short time at age 25, but saving a life isn’t one of them
That, though, is just what Klein was prepared to do after a routine bone marrow screening more than a year ago. They took a swab inside his mouth, and he forgot about even having done it until he received a monumental call upon coming out of a downtown meeting.
“I was walking down State Street, and I got a call from a Cleveland area code that I didn’t recognize,” he said. “My gut reaction was not to answer, but I picked up the phone and someone was telling me something about bone marrow.”
The call changed his life because it had the potential to save someone else’s life.
According to the National Bone Marrow Registry Program, about one in 540 registry members in the United States go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient.
“Because of the vast variation in tissue types, we can’t predict an individual registry member’s chance of donating to a patient,” the National Bone Marrow Registry Program states.
But Klein immediately knew he had a rare opportunity. He was told he was the only person in the registry who was a match for a male recipient. His biggest immediate challenge, he said, was to convince family, which he knew would eventually happen, but he was unwavering from the beginning in wanting to move forward.
“I like to think a lot of the things I’ve been doing have been good for the community and have helped people, but can I ever say I’ve actually saved someone’s life? No, I can’t,” he said.
Many people in Skokie and the surrounding area know Klein or know of him. He is involved in a remarkable number of activities that give back to his community, that help people find jobs, that help small businesses, that help the village with economic development, that help the ruling Caucus Party and more.
You won’t find anyone better organized with his time. Klein helps run Moshe Klein & Associates Ltd., his father’s Skokie bookkeeping and accounting firm for small businesses.
He has staged three major annual events in the area called The Business Event for small businesses and key speakers, drawing thousands of people. He chairs Skokie’s first Economic Development Commission and is a steering committee member and former chair of The Dempster Street Merchants Association. He also is pursuing an advanced degree in Jewish professional studies in business and administration. And on it goes.
But Klein was more than ready to add “bone marrow donor” to his tall resume all the while determined not to miss a beat in his busy schedule.
“I view this as a great opportunity to catch up on some of the work I wasn’t able to (get to),” he said about the two full days for which he was scheduled at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. “I’m not scheduling any meetings at the hospital. That’s something different than my normal schedule.”
Those days were set for this week, but they never came to be. His procedure had been postponed twice before because of the recipient’s poor health — a rare occurrence, he was told. The Sept. 23 and 24 dates for the procedure, however, were looking good as they drew near. Then Klein received another message from the National Bone Marrow Registry Program that impacted him almost as much as that original call telling him he was a match.
“Regretfully, the patient’s condition has taken a negative turn and they are reporting that his kidneys are failing,” he told the Skokie Review, which was to attend his procedure and follow his status for a story. “At this point, they are not certain he will recover and will need my cells. Needless to say, I am devastated.”
Klein was told things may turn around again, but the news hit him hard.
“I’ve really developed a strong sense of commitment for this individual who I have not and may never meet,” he said.
Getting word out
The moment Klein first discovered he was in a position to save someone’s life – all because of a painless and brief bone marrow screening – he wanted to get the word out to others.
He wanted to let his community know that joining the National Bone Marrow Registry can do so much with only temporary discomfort to the donor.
In weeks preparing for the procedure, Klein regularly gave blood. They first took 10 tubes of his blood, but then it became two or three tubes as the weeks went by. He says he felt no ill health.
“I’ll forget about it in a few hours,” he said just after giving three tubes of blood in only minutes. “I’m running an event in two or three hours. I just build (the blood draw) into my schedule, and I feel great actually.”
Had the procedure moved forward, Klein would have received injections the week before, preparing his system for the bone marrow transplant. Some side effects from the injections are often temporary aches and pains, sort of flu-like symptoms.
Those in the registry who match a patient are asked to donate either bone marrow, as Klein was asked, or cells from circulating blood (known as PBSC donation). Donating bone marrow is a surgical procedure done under general or regional anesthesia in a hospital. While a donor receives anesthesia, doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone.
PBSC donation is non-surgical done in an outpatient clinic. PBSC donors receive daily injections of a drug called filgrastim for five days, to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream.
Klein was set for his procedure for two full days. He would have slept at home at night and come back the following morning first thing. Once the procedure was completed, the medical team’s emphasis would immediately shift to transferring the bone marrow to the recipient as quickly and safely as possible.
“Sometimes that requires immediate air transportation, sometimes they jump in the car and get it out there,” Klein said. “The recipient’s health has been conditioned for this. If he’s been conditioned and doesn’t get the cells, it can be fatal.”
Following the procedure, there are temporary aches and pains for the donor, but they usually are back to full strength in short time. And they receive meticulous care from the hospital medical staff during those weeks.
“Some donors said the experience was more painful than they expected; others said it was less painful,” the National Bone Marrow Registry Program states. “Some donors describe the pain as similar to achy hip bones or falling on their buttocks. Others say it feels more like a strained muscle in the back. The ache may last a few days to several weeks.”
Klein knew little about the recipient he was prepared to save, which he understands is how it has to be.
Even at the National Bone Marrow Registry Program in Cleveland, they keep the information “very, very close to their chest,?? he said. But had the procedure gone well, and had both parties been willing, he would have been able to meet the recipient a year later.
He is still hoping to have that opportunity — to save the life of a stranger who doesn’t feel like a stranger to him anymore. Being only one of 10.5 million or so in the national registry who matches a recipient creates a special bond whether the recipient is identified or not.
“This (was) such a unique experience,” he said. “The chance to save someone’s life is something not handed to most everybody, and I (realized) that.”
He still does. And he continues to hope that the chance has not passed him by forever.