The Smile that Captured a Nation
People all over the country are stepping up to find a stem cell donor for Marlboro resident Shira Klein.
People rarely think about smiling.
Smiles are exchanged every day between coworkers, between students, between friends new and old. Some are big toothy smiles accompanied by laughter; some are fleeting and leave as quickly as they came; some take place entirely in one's eyes.
Smiles travel hand-in-hand with hellos and goodbyes; they partner with handshakes and hugs; they live alongside happy news and offer comfort through challenging times.
Even so, at the end of each day, one rarely thinks of smiles.
And yet, the smile of a New Jersey mother has proved not only memorable, but contagious. So contagious, in fact, that people across the entire country are working endlessly to make sure she can continue sharing her bright smile.
Shira Klein, 35, is a Marlboro mother of three children, ages 2, 6, and 9. Her story began to differ from that of an average suburban mom in 2010 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Shira and her doctors have tried several treatments to beat the cancer, but each time Shira relapsed. Now her only hope is to receive a stem cell donation.
After her sister's stem cells did not match and no matches were found for Shira in the worldwide database, her husband Justin wrote a letter to the community asking everyone and anyone to help save his wife.
"I am asking you all to test yourself to see if you are a match for Shira - and if not, your efforts may just help someone else's mom, daughter or friend who like Shira is fighting every day," Justin wrote.
"I need your help TODAY; not tomorrow, not next week, but today. Your immediate action could be the needle in the haystack we are looking for," he continued.
Through the power of social media and the kindness of strangers, donor drives have been continuously scheduled from New Jersey all the way south to the tip of Florida, all the way west to California, and beyond.
People like Briana Taylor, President of the Student Nurses Association at Brookdale Community College, said she was moved by Shira's story and has made a goal to get every member of the nurses association into the national marrow and stem cell registry this semester.
Smiles4Shira was born in September as an organization to help fund swabs, which cost $65 each to process, and encourage donor drives in order to help find Shira and others battling blood cancer stem cell and marrow matches.
The organization is running through Facebook right now, with over 2,000 followers looking to help "Keep Shira smiling."
In one October week, 877 people were swabbed and entered into the national registry through Smiles4Shira. An Oct. 7 drive in Marlboro got 587 people registered in one day.
Now, Smiles4Shira has registered over 6,000 people in the national donor registry.
Becoming a registered bone marrow or stem cell transplant donor is easy, and the donation process is not as painful as many believe, according to National Marrow Donor Program.
"You swab your cheek. If you are lucky enough to be someone's life saving donor the next step is as simple as giving blood,” said Krista Coppola, who saved donated stem cells to save her sister, Meghan Rizzo’s life, after a leukemia diagnosis. “Their hope and life is in the hands of those of you who are generous enough to save them."
The Klein family is working with DKMS, an international organization dedicated to fighting blood cancer and registering marrow and stem cell donors around the world.
"I work with the family and friends of blood cancer patients everyday, but it is not often I see the type of overwhelming response that Shira has inspired," said Kelly Taylor, DKMS Donor Recruitment Coordinator.
Through Shira's story, which has a prominent spot on the DKMS website homepage, DKMS is encouraging people across the nation to host donor drives or receive home kits through the mail.
"DKMS is now organizing donor drives in 18 different states across the US and we receive new requests for donor drives everyday. Some of the people I speak to have known Shira all their lives while others are just a friend of a friend who has never even met her," Taylor said. "Once someone has heard Shira's story, it seems they are compelled to help in whatever way they can."
Through a series of YouTube videos shot by the organization, Shira is seen with her husband and three children with a tearful plea for her life.
"My biggest fear is that we are not going to find a stem cell match for me, and that I'm not going to be around to watch my children grow up, get married, have their own kids. I just want to be around to do that stuff with my family," Shira said in the video.
The most common way to donate healthy stem cells is through a procedure called Peripheral Blood Cell Donation, which means the donor does not undergo surgery but instead receives injections over just a few days to increase healthy cell production.
The donation is performed much like a transfusion, a simple procedure of sitting down and donating blood.
While PBCD is most common today, many people are familiar with marrow donation, where marrow is extracted from the hip bone of a donor, a procedure that has vastly improved over the years.
It is important to note that if called as a match, donors will not know the patient they are donating stem cells or marrow to until one year has passed. At that time, both parties may agree to meet.
- Name and contact of your driver leader
Volunteers for Smiles4Shira may be separated by miles, but they are tightly bound by a hopeful determination to keep a Marlboro, NJ mother smiling for her three children.