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Israeli Girl Gets a New Lung Thanks to Kindness of Stranger

A 10-year-old Israeli girl has received lung transplants from her mother and a British man who had read of her plight in a London Jewish newspaper.

Russian-born Lisa Ostrovsky, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, was in critical but stable condition at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis on Tuesday.

Ostrovsky, who emigrated to Israel with her parents when she was 1, underwent the life-saving, six-hour-long transplant on Tuesday after lung lobes were donated by her mother, Valentina Kurdumov, and Ron Johnson, a 48-year-old British janitor.

The condition of both donors, who underwent the procedure at St. Louis’ Barnes- Jewish Hospital, was described as serious but stable.

It had been hoped that Lisa would receive a lung transplant from someone who had just died, but when her condition deteriorated, an urgent appeal for a living donor was sent over the Internet, where the London Jewish News picked up the story.

Lisa’s father, Ilia Ostrovsky, an ecologist who deals with water-quality issues in the sea of Galilee, spearheaded the campaign to publicize his daughter’s condition and to raise funds for the operation.

“We want her to have a normal life. We want her to run and swim and breathe normally. We just want to give her a chance,” he told the London newspaper.

An Israeli insurance company and the Israeli Cystic Fibrosis Association provided $300,000 toward the procedure, which is expected to cost between $750,000 and $1 million.

Ostrovsky’s global e-mail campaign also caught the attention of Rabbi Kalman Packouz of Aish HaTorah and Rabbi Levi Cunin, director of the Chabad Center in Malibu, Calif., who broadcast Lisa’s plight on their own e-mail lists to more than 210,000 people. Individuals in North America set up Web sites and grassroots fund-raising campaigns on Lisa’s behalf.

So far these efforts have generated more than $160,000 in Israel, the United States and Canada, and a pledge by one donor to cover the balance of funds not raised elsewhere. Moreover, in addition to Johnson, 20 people from around the world offered to serve as lung donors.

Cystic fibrosis is a congenital childhood disorder in which the glands of the body secrete fluids that are abnormally sticky and may cause obstruction of the lungs, intestines and, more rarely, liver. Transplant is a last resort.

Of a total of 233 pediatric lung and heart-lung transplants performed at St. Louis Children’s Hospital since 1990 — including 29 living-donor lung transplants — the overall one-year survival rate is 77 percent, according to the hospital. The longest-surviving pediatric lung transplant patient had the surgery eight years ago.

This week, Ilia Ostrovsky said, “I thank God for enabling us to get to this point, for helping us come in contact with dedicated medical teams, and for enabling us to be connected to someone like Ron Johnson.”

Before leaving for the United States last week, Johnson, who is married and has two teen-aged children, told the London Jewish News he had read about Lisa’s plight in a copy of the paper he picked up at his local supermarket.

“Even though I am not Jewish, I am interested in the Jewish community,” he said. “When I read Lisa’s story, I knew I couldn’t help financially but I realized I could donate my lung.”

His decision surprised Johnson’s family, but his resolve was firm. “I wanted to put something I had into another life,” he told the paper. “There is a Jewish saying that `if you save one life, you save the world.'”

He said that even though he had a modest education, “I can save the world.”

Packouz, who flew from Miami to be with the family in St. Louis, said that when Johnson and Ilia Ostrovsky met, they embraced for several moments in silence.

Speaking from his daughter’s bedside in St. Louis just before the operation, Ostrovsky said it was “difficult to believe that someone we have never met could do this, but there are a lot of good people all over the world.

“How can you ever thank someone who extends the gift of life as he has done?”

The operation was scheduled for Dec. 2, but was brought forward when Lisa’s doctors concluded that she was unlikely to survive until then.

Prior to the surgery, Packouz said Ilia Ostrovsky asked Lisa if she was afraid.

“No,” she responded, “I’m not afraid.”

Packouz, the author of the weekly “Shabbat Shalom” newsletter and the executive director of Aish HaTorah’s Jerusalem Fund, compared Lisa’s story to the story of Chanukah, which begins this year on the evening of Dec. 3.

The festival commemorates the second-century BCE rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle in which one day’s supply of oil kept the Eternal Light glowing for eight days.

In Lisa’s case, Packouz said, “one small lobe of a lung is giving a miracle so that fire can burn bright in Lisa for many years to come, God willing.”

Several charitable funds have been established to cover the expenses of Lisa, her mother and Ron Johnson.

Those in the United States wishing to make a contribution should send checks to the Israel Endowments Fund, 317 Madison Ave, Suite 607, New York, N.Y. 10017. [Please note on the check that the donation is for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Israel (Lisa Ostrovsky).]

In Canada, contributions can be made out to “Meoroth” and sent to The Lisa Fund, c/o TeleLink, 6075 Yonge Street, Suite 4000, Toronto, ON T. M2M 3W2.

In Israel, to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Israel, 21 Ahimeir Street, Ramat Aviv Gimel, 69120.

(JTA staff writer Julia Goldman in New York contributed to this report.)

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