Something lasting and forever: that’s the goal when a couple gets married. On Sunday, a D.C. bride and groom took on that challenge one step further and cheek-to-cheek.
Inside the Washington Hebrew Congregation, Bill (William) Begal stared at his wife with what looked like tears in his eyes. Since day one, Begal knew it was a match.
Sadly, the Institute for Justice says about 3,000 people die each year because they can’t find their match.
“My current fiancé never wanted to receive gifts, we always wanted to do something amazing,” said Begal.
So in lieu of wedding gifts, the couple asked for cheeks. They dedicated a table to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry.
Begal is the board chairman of an organization that runs a bone marrow registry to help those fighting leukemia, lymphoma or other types of blood cancer, find their life-saving bone marrow match.
“Do I do one at a time?” asked one wedding guest as her wedding date shoved both cotton swabs in his mouth at the same time! “I feel like two is easier,” the date said.
“Looking for a matching donor was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said the groom’s close friend, Jay Feinberg.
In fact, that’s how it all started for Begal. The groom said some 20 years ago, he traveled to a small town in Russia to test more than 500 people trying to find his cancer-stricken friend a bone marrow match.
Feinberg said he’s now 22 years, post-transplant and cancer free. He ended up founding The Gift of Life.
We’re told about 300 guests attended the wedding. If they haven’t done something like a cheek swab before, that means there could be 300 people added to the bone marrow registry in one day.
Before, becoming a bone marrow donor meant giving blood. Now, all you have to do is fill out some paperwork, swallow and rub two cotton swabs against your left and right inner-cheeks. Stuff them in an envelope and off to a lab they go.
“And for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and way after I’m gone, amazing things are going to be done,” said Begal.
He said they get an email of confirmation every time a match is made so they’ll be able to know the results of their efforts at the wedding, if any of guest do turn-up as match for someone else.
Begal also joked, “I don’t have to return anything and it’s really a way to include everyone who’s here as a part of our big day.”
The Institute for Justice said only 2 percent of the population is on the national registry and that about 70 percent of the population must hope that a compatible stranger can be found as a match if their doctor says a bone marrow transplant is necessary.
Both the Institute of Justice and The Gift of Life find multi-racial people have the worst odds of finding a bone marrow match, which is why Begal said it’s so important the register as many potential donors as possible, as well as people from various backgrounds.
The couple decided to do the Bone Marrow Registry for Good Deeds Day. It’s an international day of community service celebrated on April 2 of this year. The volunteer day reportedly began in Israel 10-years ago. More than 35,000 people have donated bone marrow to a stranger without a single donor death, according to IJ.
“We really believe the cure is within each and every one of us,” Begal said. “We just need to find enough people to be swabbed.”