Kally Rubin Kislowicz
Kally Rubin Kislowicz
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Stem cell rivalry

I thought I was mature and no longer competed with my kid brother at Scrabble, or running, or whose kids are more lovable... Until we had a chance to save a stranger's life
Illustrative. A girl and a boy shoot hoops. (iStock)
Illustrative. A girl and a boy shoot hoops. (iStock)

I am the middle child of three children. And while middle children are stereotypically known for being needy, indecisive, and attention-seeking, I have always prided myself on being pretty well adjusted (I mean, I think I am. Does that sound too arrogant? Because I’m hoping that a lot of people will read this, and I really want to come off sounding the right amount of confident and not conceited. Can you please tell me I’m great?). 

My brother and sister and I were good-naturedly competitive growing up. We played basketball, baseball, and a card game called 5-way solitaire that occasionally got mildly violent. As the middle, I knew my place. I generally lost to my big sister, who was taller and faster, and I usually beat my younger brother, who was shorter and slower than I. My ego could handle this. You win some, you lose some, you occasionally blame the sun that was in your eyes, or the ball that was not adequately round, but over all, order and balance in the family was maintained. 

Until my little brother grew and ruined everything. By the time I hit high school, he was taller, faster, and more coordinated, and I found that I was losing with far more regularity than my fragile self-image could tolerate. My parents claimed to love us equally, regardless of academic prowess or athletic achievement, and I naively believed them, despite the glaring evidence: my childhood nickname was Cabbage, and his was Champ...

And yet Champ and I successfully navigated this change in dynamic. Over time, we found non-competitive ways to enjoy each other’s company. As grown-ups with families of our own, I like to think that we have reached a level of maturity that no longer causes me to wonder if I am better than he is at Scrabble (yes), faster than he is in a long distance race (no), or whose children our parents love more (it’s a tie, but only because they stubbornly refuse to do a side-by-side, detailed comparison).

And then a wrench was thrown into my maturity level. My brother received a call from Gift of Life saying that he was a potential match for a man in need of a stem cell transplant. He was told that he may be called to donate stem cells in roughly two months. A week later, I got the same call from The Bone Marrow Registry. 

I asked the representative on the phone if it was a coincidence that my brother and I had both been contacted so recently, or were we perhaps in the running to donate to the same patient. She confirmed that my potential match was a male of the exact age as my brother’s patient, and that since stem cells are matched using DNA, and my brother and I have very similar DNA, it was quite likely that we were being considered for the same case. She made a passing joke about how our stem cells would have to fight it out to see who would win, and after asking me a number of questions about where I had traveled in the past 12 months (absolutely nowhere) and whether I had recently received any vaccinations (2!), she told me she would get back back to me.

As I hung up the phone I felt a number of emotions — awe and gratitude for modern science which can transform a long forgotten cheek swab from 2008 into a potentially life saving tool, hope that I could be worthy of using my body to help a stranger in this way… and a deep-seated desire to have my cells chosen over my brother’s. 

We are not in the backyard anymore, brother. This is the big time, and our stem cells are engaged in an epic battle to save this stranger, who could probably care less about our sibling drama, but who will definitely get an earful once I win, save his life, and introduce myself to him in an emotional ceremony several years down the line.   

This is not about who is better at sports (Champ), who has had more professional success (Champ again), or whose kids are cuter (toss up). This is about DNA, man! Whose DNA is a better match? Whose essence is more suited to this life-saving task? 

Perhaps you think I am making this about me and my needs, rather than the anonymous man who is clearly the main character in this narrative. To which I say, did you not read that I am a middle child? There is attention to be had here, folks. I may be indecisive about many things, but Cabbage is high in fiber and rich in Vitamin K, and she is not going to be a side dish today.  

Obviously I understand what is important here. I want to be the vessel through which a life is saved. I also want to be once and for all determined “the best of all the siblings.” And maybe just this once the stem cells will align, allowing me to have my cake and prevent my brother from having it! 

Game on, Champ. May the best stem cells win.

For “Champ’s” response, see here.

About the Author
Kally made aliyah from Cleveland, Ohio to Efrat in 2016.
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