‘Be the Match’
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‘Be the Match’

Covid doesn’t stop cancer, so local family reaches out for bone marrow matches

Ariana Geller stands between her parents, Lyn and Nate. (
Ariana Geller stands between her parents, Lyn and Nate. (

This Father’s Day was unlike any other for the Geller family of Teaneck.

The gift that Koby, Ariana, and Aliza sought most for their dad, Nate, was not a tie or aftershave lotion. It was a bone marrow donor.

This is what Ariana Geller posted on Facebook on June 21:

“On this Father’s Day, help us give our dad, Nate Geller, the most important gift of all.

“Our father, just like thousands of other people in this country, is in need of a life-saving blood stem cell donation. In the midst of the pandemic, he was diagnosed with cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and has since started treatment. Thankfully, he seems to be responding to the treatment, but the best way to cure his cancer is to receive a marrow donation.”

The most common type of transplant for ALL is an allogeneic transplant, in which blood-forming cells from a healthy matching donor are introduced intravenously and travel to the bone marrow to replace diseased cells that have been killed by chemo and/or radiation before the procedure.

“During this difficult time, many friends and family members have reached out to try and perform acts of hesed, a Hebrew word meaning kindness,” Ms. Geller wrote.

“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we are being extra careful and cannot accept every offer. But there is one safe, simple, and very impactful act of hesed so many of you can do to help. If you are between the ages of 18-44, you are the perfect candidate to be a blood stem cell donor, and it is free to do. If you are between the ages of 45-60 you can also join the registry, but you will be asked to make a $100 donation to cover the cost of the test.”

Ms. Geller’s post explained that “Be The Match is the registry our dad’s cancer treatment center uses to search for donors, and they have provided us with a way to track the number of people who have joined the registry in his honor.”

There are two ways to sign up: on the internet (http://Join.BeTheMatch.org/Hesed) or by texting “Hesed” to 61474 on your phone. Registrants will receive a swab kit to return to Be The Match.

“It is possible that our dad’s donor match is already in their registry, or that a member of our family may be a good match, but it is also possible that one of you could be the match for our father, or someone else’s father or loved one,” Ms. Geller wrote. “You could have the ability to save a person’s life, the ultimate mitzvah (the Hebrew word for commandment), and we hope you will join us in registering today and spreading this message.”

As of July 6, 128 people had signed up. The message was shared far and wide throughout the many connections Mr. Geller has made in his long career in Jewish communal service at organizations such as the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the Abraham Fund, and Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, as well as Camp Ramah New England and Camp Tel Yehudah.

Now, he is assistant director of development at 70 Faces Media, a nonprofit digital media agency formed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and My Jewish Learning. His wife, Lyn, works at UJA Federation in New York.

Mr. Geller, who just turned 62, said that his elevated white blood cell count was discovered through a routine blood test. His specific form of the disease is Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which means he has a chromosomal abnormality in addition to the blood cancer. “It’s very curable in children, but doctors are still feeling their way through the adult onset of this disease,” he said.

He started chemotherapy and steroid treatment, as well as a clinical trial of a new medication, at Hackensack University Medical Center at the beginning of May. “I’m in remission now and the transplant could be done at this point, but getting the right match is critical,” he said. “The sooner they find a match, the better.”

Statistically speaking, a sibling would have the best chance of having all the matching markers, but Mr. Geller’s one sibling is above the donor age limit of 60. Children have a 25 percent chance of matching. “I just received my swab in the mail,” Ms. Geller said.

“Ultimately, a family member could have more potential of matching,” Mr. Geller said. “But being unrelated takes a lot of the emotional pressure off. And the more people who get swabbed, the more matches will be found in general.”

The Gellers moved to Teaneck in 1986 and are active members of Congregation Beth Sholom there. Their children graduated from Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. The current head of school, Steve Freedman, sent out a letter encouraging everyone in the alumni community who is between the ages of 18 and 60 to join Be The Match’s registry.

The Geller family has pledged to donate $5 to the Equal Justice Initiative for every swab sent through the specific link and text code, and $1 for every share of Ms. Geller’s original Facebook post.

“We will be doing this donation match for a maximum amount of up to $1,000,” Ms. Geller said. “Our dad chose this organization because they are ‘committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.’”

Mr. Geller is optimistic about the campaign and about the transplant process, which can take weeks or months of preparation and hospitalization, followed by a lengthy recovery.

“There are no guarantees, but we know there are many people whose lives are extended by a bone-marrow transplant,” he said.

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