Without leaving airport terminals to avoid quarantine, Israeli volunteer organ courier travels the world saving lives
By David E. Kaplan
In every moment of darkness, it seems, there are countless moments of light. Time and again, individuals, communities and organizations have demonstrated that the direst situations tend to bring out the best in people. Literally illuminating this in the ‘Age of Corona’ is Omri Nahmias’ article in The Jerusalem Post (April 13) “The Israeli Who Never Leaves Ben-Gurion Airport”. Well, not quite – he does leave but mostly to other airports.
Of all the endless articles on Corona, Omri’s one resonated the most – I read it and then again three times!
While people the world over are rightly preoccupied with the health and wellbeing of themselves, a 47-year-old Israeli family man remains committed to the lives of people he does not even know. Mishel Zrian is a volunteer organ courier for awaiting recipients; whose lives are dependent on such organs arriving “on time”.
He has been volunteering for 20 years mostly transporting bone marrow to patients across the globe.
Corona now complicates the process and procedure.
When Mishel’s employer told him last month that he was about to be furloughed until the end of April because of countries’ policies of lockdown and isolation, Mishel thought about the lives at stake and decided to take his volunteering work to the next level and “do it full time.”
But with “full time” came immense complications, inconveniences and personal sacrifices like not seeing his wife and children.
Since that fateful decision, he has landed in Israel five times but never left his country’s airport in order to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine!
Explaining to local media, Mishel says he has an agreement with the Israel Airports Authority that he is permitted to stay at the airport lounge “until I need to get back to carry the next bone marrow delivery. Sometimes, I can land in Israel from New York at 5.00 p.m., and by 10.00pm be on a flight in the opposite direction.”
This type of selfless travel during a global life-threatening pandemic is proving to be hugely challenging but does not deter the intrepid volunteer.
Something to chew on
One of the many challenges is finding the time to eat – something most folks take for granted.
For this organ courier during Corona, “It’s hard to find an open restaurant when you are traveling,” he explains. “If I’m at the airport and I see an open place, I will eat chicken at ten in the morning. Why? Because I don’t know when the next time will be to eat.”
In the hotels, “the situation is odd as well,” he continues. “Rooms are not always clean because of different guidelines regarding staff work, and if you need a towel or shampoo, you need to go down to the reception and ask for it. I have been in hotels with no breakfast or even coffee.” It is not uncommon for Mishel, he says:
“for me to travel 24 hours without eating!”
But the main challenge, he said, is getting insurance cover.
“I couldn’t find anyone who would allow me to take out an insurance policy for the US,” he said. “I am worried about the possibility that I will get sick; so I do my best to practice social distancing while traveling.”
Bracha Zisser, founder and director of Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Donor Registry and Collection Center, told the Post that before the coronavirus outbreak, hospitals around the world used to send a courier to pick up the bone marrow.
“But things got complicated in the past few weeks. It is hard to deliver the bone marrow and to allow couriers to enter the country. So we are now working with Royale – a courier company with whom Mishel is volunteering and with El Al – that are helping us with no cost, in full volunteering,” she said. “They understand that it is about saving lives.”
Zisser revealed that in March 2020, Ezer Mizion was able to deliver 26 bone marrow donations:
– 14 to EU countries
– 10 to the US
– 1 to Argentina
– 1 to Panama.
Mishel says that despite all the challenges, he is determined to keep traveling because he knows that his work saves lives.
“The hardest part is to land in Israel without seeing my family. I have a wife and two children. Fortunately, they are supporting me.”
Mishel Zrian hails from the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, which aptly translates from the Hebrew: “Opening of Hope”.
Mishel does his city proud by living up to its name.