By Deb Silverthorn
L’dor v’dor, the Sternblitz family — David, Susan, Jordan and Hallie — is saving lives. Just a month shy of nine years after David became a blood stem cell donor, saving a woman’s life, son Jordan has done the same. With boots on the ground support of Susan and Hallie, and truly lifetime commitment from the whole family, the spirit of generation to generation is strong.
“We started just after 7 a.m. and finished after 3 — it took more than eight hours of blood stem cell donation (similar to donating platelets) but it was absolutely worth it,” said Jordan, who, in December 2021, donated, as he understands, 550 million stem cells to a woman in her mid-60s — that is all he knows of her. “It was short-term discomfort for me but it means a lifetime, however longer that lifetime might be, for the patient.”
Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC donation) is a nonsurgical procedure done in an outpatient clinic with donors receiving daily injections of the drug filgrastim for five days to increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. Then, through apheresis, a donor’s blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.
Every 27 seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer, and only 30% of all patients find a donor within their family.
The Sternblitz family first connected to supporting bone marrow and blood stem cell donation (the terms often interchangeable) in 2009, after their family friend, Karen Stock, was diagnosed with lymphoma, an aggressive and life-threatening blood cancer. Having undergone five intense rounds of chemotherapy, she turned to the community hoping to find a donor match for the bone marrow transplant she needed, critical to her survival.
It has been 13 years since an unknown donor from Chicago donated stem cells to save Karen’s life. She is grateful that the experience — while personally so trying – encouraged so many people to register as prospective donors. Every day leading up to this milestone, her transplant “bat mitzvah year,” she appreciates those who stood by her and, in the case of the Sternblitz family, how they continue to do so.
“I’m so proud of Jordan for being there, for showing up and for following through and saying ‘yes’ when the time actually came,” said Stock, now healthy and well. “It’s so important for young people to recognize the enormity of this mitzvah to save [a] life.”
Ten years ago, Stock’s daughter Lauren, now a Wesleyan University graduate working with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, founded High School Heroes, aiming to educate and recruit high school students about the cause. Hallie Sternblitz has followed her friend’s lead through her work with the DKMS Youth Advisory Board, through which Jordan first registered as a donor and the wait began.
It wasn’t a matter of counting the days, but Jordan wondered if he’d ever be called to donate as his father had. Three years later, in December 2020, he got “the call” that he was a match for a woman in her mid-60s — no other details. While they expected the transplant to take place last summer, the patient was then deemed not healthy enough. In October, another call came and the procedure was rescheduled for, and ultimately completed in, December.
“I was thrilled to be able to make the donation in my ‘backyard’ at a local blood donor site,” said Jordan. “Because of the pandemic I couldn’t have anyone stay with me but my parents were in the waiting room, and they, Hallie and Amy were able to take turns checking on me.” When his father donated in 2013, he traveled to Georgetown, D.C. — coincidentally in the midst of a snowstorm and on the day of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. With few hotel rooms and no cabs to be found, David and Susan recall walking back to their hotel after the procedure
“There just is no greater mitzvah and that Jordan has had this opportunity, and that Hallie and Susan are both so dedicated, is very special for our whole family,” said David. “To have the younger generation stepping up and setting an example is so important because the earlier that one is in the registry, the more years they are available to be a match. It is giving life — just that simple.”
Jordan and David are among more than 200 people, of the 100,000 registered bone marrow potential donors, who have given patients a second chance at life in the last decade alone.
“The Sternblitz family is amazing. They are dear friends and absolutely committed to the work we do at DKMS — in every way,” says Amy Roseman, DKMS U.S. Central donor recruitment coordinator. “The Sternblitzes truly have super DNA, [both] physically and in how they live and give.”
Roseman’s career with DKMS began 10 years ago when Karen Stock’s drive introduced her to the organization.
While the physical mitzvah is always in great need, so is support for the program as it costs $45 for every registration kit (the cost is not passed on to the potential donor).
“Unfortunately, even in a pandemic, patients are being diagnosed with blood cancers and the need for donors continues to be great,” said Roseman. “Online registration has always been available, and it is so easy.”
A Greenhill School graduate with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan, Jordan is now there attending graduate school. Raised at Congregation Shearith Israel and a former member of BBYO’s Eammon Lacey AZA chapter, he now knows firsthand the depth of the Talmudic teaching that “to save a life is to save the world.”
“I’ll keep this experience in my mind, and in perspective, my whole life,” said Jordan. “Being able to give the gift of life is not something I will ever forget.”
Anyone between the ages of 18 and 55 years old, and in general good health, can join Jordan to register as a blood stem cell donor through his virtual donor drive. It is only necessary to register one time, with DKMS or any other donor center, as all registrants are available to any worldwide search.
To support DKMS, or to register to be “the one” to help give life, visit tinyurl.com/DKMS-DONOR-VIRTUAL-DRIVE.