Mind, Body & Spirit

Gift of Life chairman and bride choose marrow registry over wedding registry

Bill Begal and Kira Epstein at their nuptials, April 2. (Clay Blackmore)

What wedding gift do you give the couple that doesn’t need anything? Bill Begal, chairman of the board of Gift of Life Marrow Registry (giftoflife.org), and his bride, Kira Epstein, decided that in lieu of a wedding registry they would make the marrow registry the centerpiece of their wedding festivities. Their wedding date, April 2, coincided with International Good Deeds Day, a worldwide day of giving to others. Founded in Israel in 2007, this day of service now attracts 1.5 million participants in 75 countries.

Begal is the founder and president of Begal Enterprises, a national disaster restoration company based in Rockville, Md., and Epstein is a real estate agent at Washington Fine Properties, Washington, D.C.

“My fiancé and I never wanted to receive gifts; we always wanted to do something amazing,” said Begal. “There is nothing more amazing than saving someone’s life. Each of us has the power within us to save someone with blood cancer, but the only way you’ll ever get that miraculous chance is by joining the registry so the transplant centers can find you.”

Guests at the April 2 wedding of Bill Begal and Kira Epstein sign the Gift of Life Marrow Registry.

While some of the 330 wedding guests were already on the registry, many others opted to take the opportunity to swab their cheeks and join as well. The couple asked friends, family and business acquaintances to join the registry and/or donate money to Gift of Life to sponsor the $60 cost of lab testing each swab kit. In less than a month, they received nearly $32,000, which will process 530 kits for the nonprofit. The bride and groom’s decision even attracted the media, with a Washington, D.C., TV news crew arriving to cover the event (youtu.be/tzXUQwP2pSc).

Gift of Life was founded when Jay Feinberg needed a donor in the early 1990s to cure leukemia and there was no match for him in the registry. Begal flew to Russia to locate the Feinberg family’s ancestral home and test 500 potential donors in the area.

“Bill is very passionate about saving lives, even to the point of going halfway around the world to help me,” said Feinberg. “His wedding day is no exception: he wears his passion for Gift of Life on his sleeve.”

Marrow registries are needed because family members are only a match about 30 percent of the time. Seventy percent of patients must rely on public registries to find a donor, but just two percent of the population is currently part of the registry.

Will any of the couple’s wedding guests be called upon to save a life? Through the BegalEpstein Donor Circle (giftoflife.org/begalstein), every donor who is sponsored by the funds collected and every donor who swabbed at the wedding are tracked in real time. “We’ll get an email if any of our wedding guests or sponsored donors are called to give bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells and save someone with blood cancer,” said Begal. “For 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and way after I’m gone, amazing things are going to be done.”

To learn more about the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, call (561) 982-2900 or visit giftoflife.org.