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Publication: THE RECORD
Date: December 12 2004

Tot’s odds-defying survival inspires special celebration

Skeptics who would question the existence of miracles ought to take a good look at a local toddler who is defying the odds.

Watch him pedaling furiously on a shiny red tricycle. Or climbing a steep staircase. Or wrapping his stubby arms around his mother’s neck and pushing his button nose onto hers.
And praise the miracle that is Chaim Noah, age 2 1/2, a devoted fan of Matchbox cars and Play Doh.

At 4 months, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. When surgery and chemotherapy failed to eradicate the tumor, doctors told the sorrowing parents their son would die.

But the chubby-cheeked boy with the infectious giggle had other plans. Like walking and talking and making people laugh--and bringing them together to make more miracles.

Today at 1 p.m., friends, neighbors and strangers from around Pascack Valley and beyond will gather at the Montvale Holiday Inn to celebrate Chaim Noah’s survival and dedicate a new Torah in his merit. At the dedication, which will include Hanukkah entertainment and a menorah lighting, guests can also watch the scribe write the final words of the Torah.
Creating a Torah--the five books of Moses and Judaism’s holiest text--is no small feat. A specially trained scribe uses a feather quill and organic ink to write more than 300,000 Hebrew characters on parchment. It takes most scribes almost a year to complete and costs around $30,000 to purchase.

Moshe Cazaz of Woodcliff Lake, a businessman and family friend who led the project, said writing a Torah in someone’s name brings them blessings. Cazaz wanted to combine the Torah dedication with a fund-raiser to help the family with costs associated with Chaim Noah’s care. The family asked that their name not be published for privacy reasons.
“They are the kind of people who are always doing something to help somebody else, even when they are suffering with their own pain,” Cazaz said. “I wanted to help them back.”
Participants are encouraged to sponsor segments of the Torah--$18 sponsors a letter, $54 a word and $500 a chapter--and proceeds beyond the cost of the Torah will be put toward expenses not covered by insurance.

Rabbi Dov Drizin of the Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, where Chaim Noah’s family attends services and the Torah will be housed, said he was struck by how many people from all backgrounds united to help.

“It shows how one life can be so significant. Everyone came together to reach out in a time of difficulty.”

When Chaim Noah was hospitalized, the mother quit her medical job and the father took days off at a time from his business to be with his son.

Neighbors cooked meals and bought groceries. Volunteers came to the house to play with Chaim Noah’s two siblings while his parents were at the hospital. Others sat at the boy’s bedside to give his parents some rest.

Chaim Noah’s parents said they were overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness.“We feel like we had an army of people to help us and they do it with such love. To have a community, which is so diverse and spread out, gather together for a Torah dedication is miraculous,” said his mother.

Chaim Noah was only a few months old when his mother began noticing something was wrong. “He had a head tilt and his eyes weren’t lined up properly,” she said. She shivered at the recollection of the doctor who examined her son’s MRI and “immediately began shaking his head.” “That’s when I knew I had to sit down,” she said.

The MRI revealed a malignant brain tumor. The boy underwent surgery and six months of chemotherapy. But the cancer returned. Doctors said the new tumor was inoperable and they didn’t expect him to survive.

But Chaim Noah’s mother refused to accept the grim prognosis. She read journals and searched the Internet for information about brain tumors. She called physicians all over the world.

In June 2003, a neurosurgeon at NYU Medical Center reluctantly agreed to operate but made no promises. “He said he didn’t think it would be successful,” she recalled. “But I wanted to take the chance.” She told her friends, family and rabbi to pray hard.

When the operation was over, the surgeon announced that the entire tumor had been removed and Chaim Noah was cancer free, for the immediate future. “I wish whoever prayed for you would pray for all my patients,” he told the mother.

Chaim Noah still has a long way to go. He’s fed through a gastric tube because he lacks swallowing reflexes and suffered nerve damage in the operations.
A tracheostomy, a hole in his neck with a tube to help clear his lungs, makes it difficult to understand his speech. He will need more surgeries. On a typical day, he spends about 10 hours a day in therapy. Back at home, his mother helps him with strengthening exercises.
Through it all, he smiles his mischievous grin.

“He goes out of his way to make other people laugh,” said his father. “While most of his life he’s known illness and pain, he finds comedy and joy.” The father says that whenever he has a bad day at work, he comes home and considers his remarkable son. “He’s gone through 30 surgeries and has been stuck with needles every day of his life and he’s still grinning and telling knock-knock jokes,’’ he said. “Everyone should look at him so that they can say, ‘I don’t have any problems.’ I feel like he was put here on this Earth to make everyone else happier.”

Outsiders are also struck by the joy. “He’s always happy and always trying to get other people to smile,” said the boy’s physical therapist, Anne Marie Santos. “He makes funny faces at me with his eyebrows and he cracks me up.”

The whole experience, said Chaim Noah’s mother, has brought her to believe in miracles. Not just the miracle of her son’s survival but the miracle that united a community to overwhelm one family with kindness.

As he prepares for the Torah dedication, Cazaz tries to envision Chaim Noah’s future. “I hope that he will be reading from this Torah at his bar mitzvah,” he said.

But Chaim Noah’s mother dreams even farther into the future. “I hope that he will watch his son read from the Torah at his bar mitzvah.”


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