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NJ philanthropist helps save life of Odessa teen
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NJ philanthropist helps save life of Odessa teen

Ed Frankel arranged for girl’s operation at hospital in Israel

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Nastya Zinovovya, a student at the Tikva School in Odessa, was airlifted to Israel, where she received a liver transplant, through the generosity of local philanthropist Ed Frankel. She is pictured shortly after the transplant. Photo courtesy Ed Frankel
Nastya Zinovovya, a student at the Tikva School in Odessa, was airlifted to Israel, where she received a liver transplant, through the generosity of local philanthropist Ed Frankel. She is pictured shortly after the transplant. Photo courtesy Ed Frankel

Nastya Zinovovya was sick. In fact, the 15-year-old student at the Tikva School in Odessa, Ukraine, was probably going to die. Her skin had turned bright yellow and she was in liver failure. She needed a liver transplant.

Enter Ed Frankel of Jupiter, Fla., and North Caldwell. Chairman of the board of Tikva, a home for abandoned and abused Jewish children, he couldn’t say no when he got the call from the school on May 11.

“This is one of our kids,” said Frankel in a telephone interview from Florida. “What’s our choice? Some people say how can you spend so much money, probably $70,000 for everything, on one child? But what’s the choice?”

Zinovovya is one of over 1,000 Jewish students who attend the Tikva schools. She had been admitted to Odessa Hospital May 1 with swollen feet and jaundice. By mid-May, she was diagnosed with acute liver failure and, according to an e-mail from Tikva CEO Refael Kruskal, doctors said they could do nothing to save her life.

“It was obvious to everyone at Tikva that we would not let Nastya die,” wrote Kruskal. “On early Tuesday morning in the U.S., I called Ed Frankel and we decided we would charter a private plane and medical team to transport Nastya to Israel in an attempt to save her life.”

Under Israel’s Law of Return, Nastya was eligible not only to go to Israel but also to have the transplant paid for by the State.

She was airlifted to Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel in Tel Aviv, but her condition remained critical, with near complete liver failure. The chances of finding a liver from a cadaver were slim. Her brother, a resident of Israel, volunteered to give her part of his.

Then, what Frankel describes as “a miracle” happened: a liver that matched became available. The transplant was done quickly, and she came out of the operation “well,” Frankel said. She remains in a dangerous period, when doctors are waiting to see if her body accepts or rejects the organ.

“We’re praying she’ll get well,” said Frankel.

Doctors expect Nastya to remain in Israel for six months to a year during her recovery.

In the meantime, Frankel has contributed to the expenses through the Leah and Ed Frankel Family Foundation, held at the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ. He has set up a matching challenge, in which his family foundation will match up to $30,000 worth of donations to cover the costs of Nastya’s medical care. (For more information, contact Joshua Rednik, 973-929-3060 or jrednik@ujcnj.org)

United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ is also helping to defray the costs.

“The Talmud teaches us that if you save one life, it is as if you save the entire world, because Judaism treasures each single human being as having a divine spark,” said UJC MetroWest executive vice president Max Kleinman. “Most institutions would have given up on Nastya’s life, as Ukraine did not have the capacity to save her. This is a remarkable story of global cooperation between Jewish philanthropists led by Ed and Leah Frankel, a caring institution, a caring hospital, and a caring State of Israel.”

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