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Giving the Gift of Life

July 2012
Jay Feinberg
Gift of Life gala donor Daisy meets her recipient Lillian

Adult donor Lillian meets
her recipient Daisy at the annual
gala of the charity Gift of Life

Leukemia is a random killer. It can strike any one of us at any time. But for many, there is hope of a cure through a bone marrow, blood stem cell or umbilical cord blood transplant. That is, of course, if a suitable donor - including cord blood - can be found.

Headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, Gift of Life is one of the nation's public blood cell registries facilitating transplants for children and adults suffering from leukemia, lymphoma, other cancers and genetic diseases.

Gift of Life evolved out of the high profile grass roots campaign to find a donor match for former New Jersey resident Jay Feinberg in the 1990s. When Jay was diagnosed with leukemia and told he would need a bone marrow transplant to survive, he had no idea that his personal journey would spawn an organization that would save the lives of hundreds of patients in need. But that's precisely what happened.

When he got sick, Jay was told that a transplant could save his life, but he would die needlessly because he would never find a matching donor. He quickly learned the reason why. A patient's best chance of finding a genetic match lies with those of similar ethnic background. Unfortunately, the worldwide registry was not representative of all ethnic groups, and Jay was Jewish. There was an urgent need to add diversity to the registry, and time was of the essence.

Jay's family and friends wanted him to have an equal opportunity to find a match. So they launched an ambitious donor recruitment campaign resulting in the enrollment of tens of thousands of new donors into the worldwide registry. But after four years, and finding matches for many other patients in need, there was still no match for Jay.

That's when his miracle happened. A young man in Chicago decided to run one last drive because his best friend had found a match through a drive held for Jay. He knew the odds were against him, but he was determined to return the gift. And that is exactly what he did.

Jay's four year search for a donor came to a close in May 1995. The very last donor - tested at that very last drive - turned out to be his miracle match! Jay received his transplant shortly after at the world renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle thanks to his miracle match, Becky, and a determined young man who wouldn't take no for an answer.

Today Gift of Life ranks as the thirteenth largest bone marrow registry in the world. The organization is a member of the international registry Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide and an affiliate donor registry of the National Marrow Donor Program. Gift of Life manages both a donor registry recruiting donors nationwide and a cord blood program enrolling mothers in New York. Its vision has not changed since Jay's search 20 years ago: a match for every patient in need, whenever they may need one. For more information, please visit

A 17 year transplant survivor, Jay Feinberg is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. He has received numerous awards for his leadership and service, including the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize, the National Marrow Donor Program's Allison Atlas Award, Hadassah International's Citizen of the World Award, and the Jewish Community Hero Award of the Jewish Federations of North America. Jay is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University in New York.