The Charles Bronfman Prize Announces Jay Feinberg as First Recipient
The Charles Bronfman Prize announced today that the first Charles Bronfman Prize of $100,000 for humanitarian achievement is being awarded to Jay Feinberg, 35, a Leukemia survivor and founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation.
Created and funded by Stephen Bronfman, Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Andrew Hauptman, children of philanthropist Charles Bronfman, the Prize celebrates the vision and talent of individuals whose accomplishments on behalf of others enrich Jewish life.
In 1991, Feinberg was diagnosed with Leukemia and was told his only hope for survival was a bone marrow transplant. An international donor search took place and over four years, thousands of volunteers were tested. The drives identified matches for dozens of other patients, but none for Feinberg. In 1995, his doctors advised him to get a transplant with a mismatched donor due to the acceleration of his disease. Before Feinberg left for the transplant, one last drive was held on his behalf. Becky Faibisoff was the last person tested. She turned out to be his ‘miracle match.’ After a four-year battle with leukemia, Feinberg received a successful bone marrow transplant in July 1995.
Drawing from his own experience, Feinberg established Gift of Life, a professionally run bone marrow registry, the only one directed by a bone marrow transplant survivor. Since tissue type is inherited, like eye or hair color, a patient’s best chance of finding a genetic match lies with donors of similar ethnicity. Gift of Life strives to increase the representation of Jewish donors in the registry in order to overcome the devastating effects of the Holocaust, which severed bloodlines. Gift of Life’s mission critical work has become a vital resource for the Jewish people and for patients around the world in need of transplants.
Gift of Life today is ranked 12th in size out of 53 donor registries and has the highest ratio of donors harvested to total number of fully typed donors vis a vis its international counterparts. Through Feinberg’s work, over 75,000 donors have been registered with Gift of Life, 60,000 registered with other worldwide programs, and nearly 1,000 donor-recipient matches facilitated.
Gift of Life is a member of the World Marrow Donor Association, the organization promulgating quality standards for worldwide donor registries, where Feinberg also sits on numerous committees.
“Even as his own survival was in question, Jay sought out ways to save others. I could not be more honored than to have Jay as the inaugural recipient of this prize,” said Charles Bronfman. “Through his endeavors, he truly is an inspiration and a hero to the emerging generation of Jews and indeed to all those seeking to make a difference.”
Ever hungry to do more and save more lives, Feinberg plans to start an umbilical cord blood registry in the coming year, focused on the Jewish community. Transplantation of umbilical cord blood is a growing therapy since it is rich in the stem cells used to treat patients suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and a wide variety of diseases who are otherwise unable to find suitably matched bone marrow or blood stem cell donors. This program will be launched in May 2004 at Gift of Life’s annual Donor-Recipient Gala held in New York.
Asked to comment on the award, Feinberg said: “I am particularly honored to receive this Prize because of the man for whom it’s named. Through his dedication and leadership, Charles Bronfman has projected a vision that has made the Jewish world a better place. He has proven that one person can make a difference.” He continued, “From time to time, we read human interest stories about members of our communities who perform great acts of heroism. But at Gift of Life, we are blessed to witness these acts every day when we work with our bone marrow donors. Through their determination to save the lives of complete strangers, they continue to be my daily inspiration.”
Feinberg commented on Becky Faibisoff, his miracle match: “My donor’s [Becky’s] gift of marrow saved more than one life. Her selfless act of kindness was the catalyst that transformed a grassroots recruitment campaign into an international resource of bone marrow donors for patients in need of life-saving transplants. Making Gift of Life my life’s work is my way to thank her and the Jewish communal world for giving me a second chance.”
Feinberg has high praise for those in the Jewish community who have helped him immensely but has a message for the broader community as well: Through patient advocacy, bone marrow donor registration and soon umbilical cord blood donation, I hope Gift of Life will become a model for other organizations dedicated to the prospect that it only takes one person to save a life.”
The Charles Bronfman Prize is an international prize. Its inaugural year witnessed scores of worthy nominations. The next cycle of nominations will be accepted beginning July 1, 2004. The nominations process for 2004-2005 closes October 30, 2004.
The Charles Bronfman Prize Foundation, a United States 501(c)(3) corporation headquartered in New York administers The Charles Bronfman Prize. Stephen Bronfman, Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Andrew Hauptman are Co-Chairs of the Foundation.
About Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation
The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s mission is to facilitate transplants for children and adults suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as leukemia and lymphoma. Since tissue type is inherited, like eye or hair color, a patient’s best chance of finding a genetic match lies with donors of similar ethnicity. Gift of Life strives to increase the representation of Jewish donors in the registry in order to overcome the devastating effects of the Holocaust, which severed bloodlines.