Brian Zionts-Bernstein knows miracles are real. He knows this because he experienced a miracle — right in time for Hanukkah too. This is also why he carries a dreidel inscribed with Hebrew letters forming an acronym for nes gadol hayah poh, meaning “a great miracle happened here.”
So, what exactly happened? Three years ago on the last night of Hanukkah, Zionts-Bernstein underwent a double lung transplant that saved his life. Zionts-Bernstein, now 53, lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Kym and their son Sam.
The operation took place six years after he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is typically fatal, as it causes scar tissue to build up, which results in loss of elasticity in the lungs. Basically, that makes it harder to breathe and allow oxygen to get to the brain and other organs.
Knowing he had to get a lung transplant was hard to cope with, saying how “it was very hard to swallow because it’s dealing with my own mortality.” He was was put on the donor recipient list in September 2014 (which is a long list, considering 117,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for organ transplants). Then three months later, he got a voicemail:
The first words I heard were ‘Brian, we have lungs for you,’ and I had trouble listening to it after that because I started crying and got very emotional.
Three years later, after a successful surgery, Zionts-Bernstein still needs to check in with his transplant team every three months — and for him, Hanukkah now has an even more special meaning: a fresh start.