‘She has left an in­spir­ing legacy’

Com­mu­nity mourns death of Sharon Berger as she loses hard-fought bat­tle against cancer

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

SHARON BERGER, the grand­mother who launched an in­ter­na­tional hunt for a bone-mar­row donor after be­ing di­ag­nosed with leukaemia, “leaves be­hind an in­spi­ra­tional legacy that will save lives,” say her fam­ily.

Mrs Berger, 65, suc­cumbed to her ill­ness last week after a five-year bat­tle that united the com­mu­nity be­hind her search for a donor.

She passed away sur­rounded by fam­ily in Ham­mer­smith Hospi­tal where she was be­ing treated.

Her son Jonni Berger said her fam­ily were “dev­as­tated” but were “tak­ing strength from the huge num­ber of peo­ple who have joined the stem cell reg­is­ter be­cause of her cam­paign”.

In De­cem­ber 2012 Mrs Berger fell se­ri­ously ill with myelodys­plas­tic syn­drome (MDS), a mal­func­tion of the bone mar­row in pro­duc­ing blood cells, and un­der­went in­ten­sive chemo­ther­apy in hospi­tal while wait­ing for a trans­plant.

A donor was found fol­low­ing a four-month cam­paign known by its Twit­ter hash­tag #Spit4Mum.

Many celebri­ties pledged their sup­port on so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing singer Brit­ney Spears, Is­raeli model Bar Re­faeli, One Di­rec­tion mem­ber Liam Payne, singer Olly Murs, and co­me­dian Ed­die Iz­zard.

After a rou­tine blood test in July 2016, Mrs Berger re­ceived the dev­as­tat­ing news that her cancer had re­turned and started sev­eral weeks of chemo­ther­apy.

Her son said: “It was a huge blow to the fam­ily. She had to have a sec­ond trans­plant and I was her donor but I was only a 50 per cent match.

“Although it ex­tended her life, it didn’t cure the leukaemia.”

He added: “Trib­utes have poured in from around the world as well as from across the Bri­tish Jewish com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing from the Re­form, Lib­eral, United sy­n­a­gogue move­ments as well as

from the com­mu­ni­ties of Stam­ford Hill. “The Spit4Mum cam­paign brought peo­ple to­gether to save lives ir­re­spec­tive of their af­fil­i­a­tion or de­nom­i­na­tion.”

Over 1,190 Jewish peo­ple joined the An­thony Nolan donor reg­is­ter in the first four weeks of the cam­paign and the num­ber has grown sig­nif­i­cantly since.

Jewish ar­eas in Lon­don now have the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of stem cells donors, as a re­sult of the Spit4Mum cam­paign.

Henny Braund, An­thony Nolan’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “Sharon spoke elo­quently about her ex­pe­ri­ences of MDS and leukaemia, as well as the chal­lenges she faced with her trans­plant.

“It was a priv­i­lege to know and work with her. She will be sorely missed by all at An­thony Nolan.”

Mr Berger said: “I think her death leaves an in­spi­ra­tional legacy that will hope­fully save lives.”

His mother, whose funeral at the Western ceme­tery in Cheshunt on Sun­day was at­tended by hun­dreds of peo­ple, was lu­cid and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with her fam­ily right up to the end of her life.

Mr Berger said: “She was proud of what she had done, and wor­ried about her fam­ily and wanted to know that we would all be OK.”

Be­fore her death the grand­mother-oftwo — who was from north-west Lon­don and be­longed to Finch­ley Re­form Sy­n­a­gogue — was able to see her daugh­ter Caro­line get mar­ried in an in­ti­mate cer­e­mony at­tended by im­me­di­ate fam­ily.

Mr Berger said: “That was im­por­tant to her and Caro­line. She was able to come out of hospi­tal and see it hap­pen.”

Mrs Berger’s daugh­ter in law, Rabbi Miriam Berger, of Finch­ley Re­form Sy­n­a­gogue said: “As a com­mu­nity we are al­ready see­ing Sharon’s legacy live on.

“It was only a few weeks ago that a mem­ber of the shul in her twen­ties, who reg­is­tered through the Spit4Mum cam­paign, do­nated her stem cells as an anonymous donor. While it doesn’t take away our sad­ness to have lost Sharon it does give us hope that oth­ers will have the gift of life.”

Rabbi Avra­ham Pin­ter, a prom­i­nent fig­ure in the strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­nity of Stam­ford Hill said Mrs Berger “had a great zchus (merit) in get­ting so many peo­ple on to the bone mar­row reg­is­ter.”

Sharon Berger

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