Lisandro Zeno, an exemplary transplanted young man (by Corina Moscovich.)

Since I moved to Luxembourg, one of the stories that I followed through mass media and social networks, and which caught my attention was the one of Lisandro Zeno: a happy piece of news at a time of high political antagonism and among so many sad news. I remember reading the messages from people wishing him the best, blessing him, sharing stories. Or Googling him in the days after his transplant so as to have updated news about his evolution. Or being moved to tears because of his optimism, seeing him in pictures with his family, his girlfriend, his friends, and feeling true happiness for his recovery, for his trip through the North of Argentina, for the love from people.

Let´s break this down... Until he was 24, Lisandro Zeno was essentially a rugby player (third line) for Jockey Club Rosario and an advanced student of Medicine. Suddenly, a leukemia diagnosis challenged him to find practical solutions. That was his reaction: he did not get depressed. He did not complain. He chose to make decisions. He knew he would need a donor and next to his loved ones and lifelong friends they set out on a voyage to obtain a bone marrow compatible to his. The scope of the appeal was so big that it reached the ears of Pope Francis, who blessed him through a brief video message.

With his sister and his parents in Salta, Argentina. 
After almost seven months of an intense search for the donor, the Zeno family came across a slightly optimist result. The potential donor of bone marrow -a 39-year-old Brazilian man who had expressed his will to be a donor several years ago- was very difficult to be located. Then, Lisandro´s brother asked for help -in a specific and detailed way- through social networks.
From Rosario, a sportsman and almost the same generation as Zeno, Lio Messi, once aware of the urgent situation of Lisandro, wrote a message on his Instagram account: “If you are a Brazilian, 39-year-old man, with blood type 0 positive and at some point you expressed your willingness to donate bone marrow, they are looking for you. Come as soon as possible to ABTO (Brazilian Association of Organ Transplant) because you are the most compatible one in the world with an Argentinean guy who has leukaemia and needs you to save his life. You are his only opportunity”. As if he would have shouted it from the top of the Everest, the echo had an immediate effect. With the help of Messi and many other people, the message reached the intended receiver. 
In order to be ready to the transplant itself, which was held on September 10, 2015, Lisandro first received chemotherapy to destroy all his bone marrow and to be able to receive new cells. 
Throughout his treatment, he was hospitalized several times and he also needed several blood transfusions. All the time Lisandro was accompanied by his loved ones, his lifelong friends and the solidarity and affection from the people from Rosario, Argentina and other countries of the world.
From the moment Zeno was transplanted, blood donations at Rosario´s Britannic Hospital, precisely where Lisandro had the operation for the first time, multiplied by five. Even in his recovery period, Zeno began to collaborate in awareness campaigns, making the message very clear: bone marrow donation is a living donation. To donate organs, blood and bone marrow save lives.

With two other bone marrow transplanted guys, both from Rosario and from Central
I wish, through this blog, to help bone marrow donation to become known in Luxembourg. Same for a singular history of courage, solidarity and optimism as it is the one of Lisandro Zeno, for whom I have a deep respect and admiration. 

-Being far but following closely your case, I always had the impression that you had an amazing mental clarity regarding your diagnosis and your future. Was it your knowledge as a student of Medicine? Faith? Good will?
-Undoubtedly, what is more important in what happens to us is our standpoint in daily life. With this I do not mean that it’s more important the “how” than the “what”. From the very beginning the doctor explained to me that 50% of my treatment was managed by me with my thoughts and my willingness to fight my disease. Therefore I never allowed myself to be managed by fear and I was always optimistic and had a will to live. Despite being sick, I decided to enjoy and to see it as another stage in my life where I had two options: victimize myself and complain or put up a fight and use my disease to grow as a person and help other people.
-Which is the best way for people from all social classes/levels of education to leave aside the taboos and accept to be donors of bone marrow? 
-Despite almost being a doctor I was not a donor and I was not even aware of how was the process to become one. Once I found out how easy it is, I started to do campaigns to raise awareness. I believe that the best way to obtain donors is through education of population in general and through kids and teenagers at schools, as they are the future donors.
-Did you do awareness campaigns for children? 
-We did some at schools (state and private ones), though I think that if we want this to be massive there must be a compromise from the Ministry of Education so as to reach every educational institution from the country.
-Name popular people involved with bone marrow donation and/or awareness. 
-Julián Weich is someone who is very involved with solidarity and he permanently helps us. Facundo Arana is compromised with donation because it has touched him in a very personal way. Messi made several videos on the topic.
With my brother and my sister.
-What about marrow bone donation in other countries in relation to Argentina?
-The countries with a higher quantity of donors are U.S.A. and Germany with almost 5 million of possible donors per person. We only joined the international registry 13 years ago but we already have 150,000 donors. This figure keeps growing thanks to the external collection which is made by the unselfish work of so many volunteers.
-Which is the cost and the timing for a transplant? 
-It depends on where you do it, but nowadays the average cost is around $500 mil (approx. €33,000). Of course, through the National Law of Transplants that amount has to be paid as a whole by the medical insurance of the person in need. It requires being hospitalized in isolation for a month, where first your sick bone marrow is erased through chemotherapy so as to leave place for the new bone marrow received from the donor.
-How do you feel after being transplanted? 
-I have experienced it as a new birth, a second chance to be able to enjoy this beautiful life we have.
-Are you in contact with your donor? 
-I love my donor without even knowing him, which is something I will be able to do in three months, an exact year after the transplant was made. This is because of Incucai´s policy that transplants are secret so as to avoid any kind of agreement.
-Which role did sport play in your personal history and especially since November 2014? 
-Effort, patience, perseverance, team work, solidarity and other values. Overall, sport is key and even more when it is a team sport. It teaches you values which are basic for life, besides sport itself.
With my cousin, my sister and my cousin some weekends ago at the club.
-How fast did social networks help to find your donor? 
-We are not aware of the true power of social networks when it comes to help for causes of solidarity. Nowadays people spend a lot of time browsing social networks and in my case I think it was key to locate the donor, who we knew who he was but who was hard to find there in Brazil.
-You are about to become a doctor. Did your decision regarding your choice of specialization change after your illness? 
-Yes, it did. Before getting sick I wanted to be an urologist and follow the family tradition. Now I hope to be able to devote to something related to social medicine, helping people who has to fight against diseases similar to mine. And anything related to awareness.
In Colombia cheering for Central with his friends. 
-Will you play rugby again so as to win a championship? 
-My doctor does not allow me to play rugby this year, as it is a contact sport. I try to follow my team wherever they play and to be close to them, as I love them so much. Now I am playing soccer and doing some running.
-Thank you.
-Nice questions. These interviews, besides helping to raise awareness, they help me to reflect and keep learning from what has happened to me.
Corina Moscovich

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