Back in 2011, Jay Matthew of Livingston was attending an event at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, the school his children attend.
Representatives of Gift of Life Marrow Registry were there “asking people if they wanted to take a swab of their DNA for their registry,” said Matthew, 53. Gift of Life is an international public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry.
“I did it, and thought nothing of it,” he said. “Then, in 2017, I was informed I was a match…. I certainly was willing to help save someone’s life if I could.
“This all changed from a swab to something much more important.”
A physical examination confirmed Matthew, who runs Sportime USA, a family indoor amusement center in Elmsford, N.Y., was fit to donate bone marrow and have his stem cells collected to aid a seriously ill leukemia patient.
Matthew’s 2017 donation saved the life of Richard Pepper of Ashland, Ore., now 66, his illness in remission. The two met for the first time at a Beverly Hills event hosted by Black Lines, a social media influence group that partnered with Gift of Life Marrow Registry.
“It’s just been a miracle,” said Pepper in a statement. “I just want to thank Jay Matthew so much — this is incredible to meet someone who literally raised me up from the dead — since I only had six weeks to live. I really appreciate it.”
Matthew told NJJN he was “simply pleased” that he was in a situation where he could save the life of another human being.
“I must admit I was a little nervous about meeting my recipient, but it turned out great.”
Matthew said his donation procedure at Hackensack University Medical Center “was easy.” The process took five hours, he said.
“It was like nothing, compared to other things I do, and afterward I found that someone lived because of my efforts, and that’s very, very rewarding. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life.”
The Gift of Life Marrow Registry, headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., got its start in 1991, when former West Orange resident Jay Feinberg, 23 at the time, needed a bone marrow donor to treat his leukemia. Feinberg was told that his best chance of finding a genetic match was to look within a pool of donors from a similar ethnic background, in Feinberg’s case Jews of Eastern European descent.
At that time, the worldwide registry was not representative of all ethnic groups, including Ashkenazi Jews, many of whose DNA had not been previously recorded for matches of this kind.
Feinberg finally located a matching donor in 1995 and has since dedicated his life to diversifying the donor base, founding and serving as CEO of The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry. The organization still aims to increase the number of registered Jews, especially for those who lack extended families due to the Holocaust, but also to help patients from all ethnic groups.
To date, Gift of Life has facilitated over 16,500 matches for those with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell, and nearly 100 other diseases, resulting in more than 3,400 successful transplants.
Matthew and his wife Liat have four children; they’re members of the Modern Orthodox Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston.
Matthew reiterated how easy it is to become part of the registry. “It’s just a swab, and they just may need your help,” he said.
For information visit giftoflife.org.