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September 10, 2013 > Fremont rabbi donates stem cells in painless procedure

Fremont rabbi donates stem cells in painless procedure

By Nicole Ellis

The term "bone marrow donor" use to invoke images of pain. Now, with the innovation of the peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, being a bone marrow donor can be virtually painless. Moshe Fuss, a local Fremont rabbi, has recently experienced a PBSC donation. "It's really, really an amazing procedure," said Fuss about the alternative donation process. PBSC donation and marrow donation are similar; both methods extract healthy liquids from the donor. The PBSC process removes blood through one arm of the donor, separates the blood-forming cells, and then the remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. A marrow donation is a surgical procedure where doctors use a needle to extract liquid marrow from the donor's pelvic bone.

"Anyone that I meet, they tell me 'it must have been painful,"' Fuss shared. "Its four hours lying down and the only pain that I had, I really didn't feel any other, was keeping my arm straight for four hours." Fuss joined the international bone marrow database seven years ago when his neighbor talked him into signing up on the registry. "When he spoke to me about it for the first time I was hesitant because I knew it was a very hard procedure to go through and I was thinking, do I really want to do this," Fuss shared. "I would love to save someone's life and it's something that is amazing- to save someone's life."

Fuss explained that Jewish recipients have a harder time finding donors because a large number of their relatives were killed during the Holocaust. "Then I get the phone call and find out I'm a possible match for someone," Fuss explained. After completing physical exams, Fuss found out the procedure was cancelled. "I thought, forget it I'm never going to be a match for someone because it's a once in a lifetime thing."

A few months ago, he received another call. All he knew was that this patient was a 49-year-old woman with Hodgkin lymphoma. That's all Fuss had to know. That same day he went in for his blood work and found out that his brother, too, was a match for the same recipient. After the lab results we in, Gift of Life chose Moshe to be the donor. "They asked me to go forward with this and we scheduled something right away," Moshe explained.

Shortly after the go-ahead, Fuss flew to Washington D.C. to complete his physical exams. He was only on the East Coast for a few hours. A few weeks later his exam results were in and a procedure date was scheduled- August 13.

The four days leading up to the procedure were uncomfortable. Fuss was given four injections of filgrastim which increases the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. "For those few days, it's painful in the bones. It's manageable, but it's definitely painful in your whole body," Fuss shared. "It's interesting because on different days I'll feel pain in different parts of my body." Once the injections were completed, it was time for Fuss to, again, travel. His PBSC donation procedure took place at Inova, a surgery center just outside of Washington D.C.

"It was a four hour procedure," Fuss described. "It's unbelievable. You go in, lay down on the bed, a needle is put in one arm and another in the other arm." The most painful part about the procedure was keeping his arms straight for four hours; other then that, the donation was pain-free. "I left the hospital bed after I finished the procedure and within 25 minutes, I was out," Fuss said.

Once the donation process is over, the stem cell bag is sent immediately to the recipient. Fuss has to wait about five months to hear if the patient's body accepted his cells. After a year, Fuss and the recipient have an option to meet each other. "I'm really excited," Fuss said about the potential meeting. "It's like a part of me, sort of. I would love to meet the recipient."

According to Be the Right Match, a national marrow donor program, 1 in 540 members will go on to donate marrow or PBSC to a patient. Fuss hopes to have the chance again. "We moved to Fremont to bring more Jewish awareness and kindness to others," Fuss shared. "My whole life is given over to kindness and helping others. And to save someone's life, I think, is the epitome of kindness."

Just recently the Gift of Life foundation contacted Fuss. They want Fuss to help them hold a drive in the Tri-City community. "There are times when we can save one life, like I did here, but hopefully, by putting this out, I think it could save many more lives. I think many more people will be willing to join the database."

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