By Deb Silverthorn
In 2014, Alex Horn showed up to a Be The Match Bone Marrow Registry drive at Texas Torah Institute (TTI). Eight years later, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, he spent the day saving the life of an infant. “Save one life, save the world,” the Talmud teaches.
Before the drive at TTI, all Horn had heard of bone marrow donations was years earlier when his family friend Andy Cohen spoke to his fifth grade Solomon Schechter Academy (now Ann and Nate Levine Academy) class about how he had donated bone marrow twice and his wife had done so once.
His friends were going to the drive; it was a mitzvah; so he went.
Then he heard nothing, for eight years.
“I got a call about two months ago saying I was a match for a baby. They asked if I’d go ahead with the donation,” said Horn, a Yavneh Academy (now Akiba Yavneh Academy) and Texas A&M graduate. The son of Sharon and Barry Horn, and brother of Zach (Lauren) and Grace, Horn grew up at Congregation Anshai Torah. He and his wife, also named Alex, are members of Temple Emanu-El, and he serves on the regional board of Texoma ADL.
It’s no surprise that his answer was a swift “yes.” The weeks that followed included bloodwork and a physical and then, last month, he began the process that put his body in overdrive, preparing for the actual peripheral blood stem cell donation and increasing the number of blood stem cells in his bloodstream.
At the donation center, which remains undisclosed, he underwent apheresis, during which his blood was removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that collected only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood was returned through a needle in the other arm. The process is similar to that used when donating blood platelets.
Be The Match paid for all medical expenses, and for him and his wife, the airfare, hotel, food and more.
“They couldn’t have made it any easier to do a good thing,” said Horn, who returned to his job as a solution account manager at RealPage. He reported little discomfort, and no worktime loss, due to the experience. “Definitely nothing that would stop me from doing it again.”
“The actual donation only took maybe four hours and, while it didn’t look like much volume to me, it was three times what the baby needed. They’ll do the transfusion and then freeze the rest in case it’s needed later,” he said. “While they were removing my IVs, the courier arrived to take the stem cells to the infant patient. I received a text saying it was received that same afternoon.”
The process doesn’t allow for connecting donor to recipient for at least a year, and then it is only if by mutual agreement most of the time.
For Horn, the physical donation only started his journey; he and his wife plan to host donation drives in the community. Having learned that the considerable majority of successful matches take place between donors and patients of the same ethnic background, the Horns plan to connect not only to the Jewish community but to other diverse populations in the area.
“I learned a lot during the process and, while Caucasians find a match about 79% of the time, for those of Hispanic descent, it’s about 48% and for African Americans, only about 29%,” said Horn. “We have to reach out wherever we can.”
Horn added, “There are a number of registries around the world but, when a donor is needed, anyone who has ever registered shows up.” While some agencies allow for donors between 18 and 55 years of age, Be The Match, with whom Horn is connected, follows research that shows younger donors lead to the best transplant success, so they focus their recruitment of donors under 35.
MaKenzie Lamphere, the Be The Match workup specialist who coordinated Horn’s donation, works with donors across the country. “Alex was incredible, as are most of the people who step up to help others by providing this truly lifesaving need. It was great to work with his kind heart and spirit to do whatever he needed to.”
“This is a true mitzvah, one that might cause any level of discomfort to help another, especially someone he didn’t know. It is an extraordinary contribution to the world and I’m so proud of him,” said Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Michael Lewis, who has become a close friend to Horn. “It’s a true testament to one’s character and values and an example we should all aspire to follow.”
“A baby is going to, G-d willing, be OK. It really is a miracle to connect with another for life,” said Horn. “If matched again, I’d do it in a minute and I hope others will follow me.”
To register with Be The Match, visit tinyurl.com/Register-Be-The-Match. To connect to Gift of Life Marrow Registry, visit GiftofLife.org.