Accidental Immigrant Fighting to Overcome Leukemia

When Gideon Prodgers, a 19-year-old South African, arrived in Israel on a yearlong Habonim Dror program, he never imagined a health emergency would bring him to make aliyah.

Prodgers - or Gid the Fighter to his friends and family - arrived here in February for a leadership program, along with fellow South African members of the international youth movement. Gideon has been a Habonim Dror member since age 12 in his native Cape Town.

In June, he checked into Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, complaining of nausea and dizziness. Days later, doctors diagnosed him with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, characterized by malignant and immature white blood cells in the bone marrow.

Because of his health, doctors said he could not return to South Africa. However, Prodgers' insurance in Israel was limited to emergency tourist coverage. The hospital staff suggested to Prodgers that he make aliyah, which would entitle him to the state health insurance offered free for new immigrants. Within days of the diagnosis, Prodgers applied for and was granted Israeli citizenship.

"The Shaare Tzedek medical team was the first to suggest Gideon take advantage of his right to become an Israeli citizen and benefit from comprehensive medical coverage," said Laura Prodgers, Gideon's mother, who flew to Israel five days after his diagnosis. Her son had not thought about making aliyah beforehand, and she said his decision was purely based on health considerations.

Prodgers has since gone through two "protocol stages" of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and now must undergo a bone marrow transplant, to be conducted at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. His mother, his sister Kayda and his father Rod - who have temporarily relocated to a tiny two-room apartment in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ein Karem - are undergoing tests to see whether they can be his donor.

"There is still no clarity as to who will be the bone marrow donor, but Laura seems to be the most likely," Rod Prodgers wrote on a Web journal the family set up to update friends on Gideon's status. "He is courageous and stoic, knows that there is more to come, yet is determined to carry on a normal life after all this is done."

In between the headaches, nausea, weight loss and fatigue, Prodgers - who hopes to enroll in the University of Cape Town next year - has kept himself entertained by listening to music, keeping in touch with friends on Facebook and taking care of the fish his friends from Habonim Dror gave him. The other program participants have been visiting Prodgers and speaking with him regularly by phone, and telling him about their summer on Kibbutz Ein Shemer, where they are working as camp counselors for Arab and Jewish youth.

His doctors say Prodgers will need to spend at least three to six weeks recovering in isolation, provided there are no complications, so that doctors can observe him to ensure his body has accepted the transplant. In the meantime, Gideon has been injecting himself with medications to combat his loss of appetite, and to prevent and control possible thrombosis.

"Good thing he's had some experience with body piercing," his father noted in a recent online posting.

The Cape Town Jewish community, among others, has established the Gideon Prodgers Fund to provide the Prodgers family financial assistance while in Israel. The fund has raised 630,000 Rand (approximately NIS 378,000, or $87,000). An upcoming fundraiser to be held in Cape Town will charge 250 Rand (about $35) per participant, says Moshe Lederman, the Jewish Agency emissary in South Africa. Prodger's story has made headlines in Cape Town Jewish press, and the appeal for donations has been circulating through the 15,000-member Jewish community there.

Meanwhile, Prodgers has been receiving uplifting messages through his family's Web site, wishing "the fighter with credentials of intergalactic proportions" a speedy recovery. "Everyone's continued support is an unbelievable source of comfort," Laura Prodgers wrote in a recent posting, "not forgetting all the Israelis that just crawled out of nowhere to be at our side, total strangers, who have all gone the extra mile and more, to make it all happen for Gid."