31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Death Of Child Reminds Us That Life Is Precious

Death of child reminds us that life is precious

Single... with Children

Publication Date: 03/28/01

Though this column doesn't involve my usual theme of single parenting, I hope you'll understand that I have to write it nonetheless. You see, I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that I would do two things in honor of a young man I learned about on the Internet a few months ago.

As I've mentioned before, I learn my most important lessons from children. In the past few months I have been touched by a child I never met in person, but through a Web site faithfully and lovingly maintained by his mother. It was the picture of a vibrant and smiling young man that captured my attention. If you were to visit his Web site and see that infectious smile, you'd understand why I have to share his story.

Yossi was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 20, 1997, when he was 9 years old. He was subjected to three months of chemotherapy that sends 96 percent of those treated into remission. Yossi, however, fell into the unlucky 4 percent and was considered an induction failure. His only hope for a future was a bone marrow transplant, but his sisters and brother were not a match. Happily for Yossi, a generous man in another part of the United States who had registered with the National Marrow Donor Program proved to be a suitable match.

Four months after diagnosis, Yossi was admitted to the Medical College of Virginia in his hometown of Richmond. Yossi's new marrow engrafted, and with the professional care of his medical team and the love and support of his parents and grandparents, he spent the next three years in the business of being a kid. His routine followups found healthy blood counts, boundless energy and a smile that spoke of a sincere appreciation for the life he had been given.

Then the unthinkable happened. Last September, 2{ years after his bone marrow transplant, Yossi reported to his parents that something wasn't quite right. They rushed to the oncologist, who performed blood counts and a bone marrow aspiration as well as a biopsy. The leukemia had returned in an isolated relapse, but because leukemia is a blood disease, it was clear it wasn't going to remain isolated for very long.

Though devastated and disappointed, Yossi and his family determined to fight this relapse. Leah, Yossi's mother, went a step further. She documented the entire process on a Web site with daily updates. She did this not only to keep family and friends informed of what they were going through, but also for the sake of others who might find themselves with a child in this same situation. Leah posted daily information, hope, personal feelings and even humor into a site that has captured the attention of people all over the world. In the middle of a personal storm, it was a very selfless gift indeed.

It soon became apparent that another bone marrow transplant would have to be endured to give Yossi any chance at all. Yossi's beloved paternal grandfather would be his donor, and the transplant would take place at a hospital in Minneapolis. Imagine having a couple of weeks to basically move your existence and family to a different city for a minimum of three months and factor in four younger children to attend to in addition to a child facing a life-or-death procedure. That's exactly what Leah and her husband Michoel were faced with in order to give Yossi the very best chance at a cure. The logistics were dizzying.

This amazing family set off once again seeking a second miracle for their now 12-year-old son - a child with a smile that could melt an iceberg - thanks to a caring synagogue in Richmond and an equally accommodating one in Minneapolis. His mother ended each daily Internet update with a simple request for those reading to commit random acts of kindness and prayers regardless of religion practiced.

I would like to be able to report that things went perfectly and Yossi is on his way toward a second cure, but that isn't what happened. Though Yossi's new marrow from his grandfather engrafted, so did a lethal fungus, and on March 11 Yossi lost his valiant and courageous fight. Just as his mother faithfully posted his struggle with daily updates for who followed his poignant story, she and her husband have continued to keep us posted on what life has been like following the trip back home, his funeral and what is involved in pulling a family back together after such a painful loss.

The last time I checked the counter on Yossi's Web site, it posted more than 45,000 hits. The online guest book is filled with posts from family, friends, health care professionals who took care of Yossi and strangers who joined the family in prayer for a miracle. The next time someone complains that nothing good can come from the Internet, I invite you to send them to Yossi's Web site. I challenge anyone to read his story and not find a lump in their throat and a deep admiration for his family.

Remember that I had made two promises in honor of Yossi? One promise was to get the word out that bone marrow donation is a gift you can give and quite possibly save a life. Because of Yossi's first bone marrow transplant, he was afforded three extra years with his family that he wouldn't have been allowed otherwise. As a parent, I define that as a miracle. The other promise I will fulfill in honor of Yossi is to put my own marrow where my mouth is and get registered myself.

If you are interested in learning more about Yossi's life and catching a glimpse of that smile, I invite you to visit his Web site at

www.geocities.com/Heartland/9071/yossi.html. To learn more about bone marrow donation you can visit www.marrow.org. As Leah always reminds her readers, give your children extra hugs and kisses. Every single day with our children really is a gift. Life truly is precious.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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