Mourning Fanconi’s Anemia Warrior Ruthie Saunders A”H (4-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

Mourning Fanconi’s Anemia Warrior Ruthie Saunders A”H (4-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

37 years ago, Sharon Saunders and her now ex-husband, Jonathan, had no children of their own. And they decided to adopt a baby girl. Not a regular, healthy baby girl. But rather a beautiful, adorable, and also very sick baby girl with a terrible genetic disease called Fanconi’s Anemia.
When Sharon and Jonathan adopted her, the life expectancy for their daughter, whom they named Ruth Ahava, was only 5 years. In other words, this couple chose to adopt and care for a girl who they were told would be sick and dying and dead by her 6th birthday. How many people in the world would freely choose to do that?
But their little Ruthie, was a fighter, a warrior. She defied all expectations and lived to the age of 38. Even with the medical advances that have taken place since Ruthie’s birth, she ended up lived at least a decade longer than any other recorded case of her specific kind of this dreaded illness.
My husband Joshua and I had the privilege of having Sharon and Ruthie as our neighbors for 13 years. They spent over a decade of Rosh Hashana meals and Passover seders as well as many Shabbat meals with our family.
We all knew, for as long as we knew her, that Ruthie was a walking miracle.
But a few months ago, we found out that Ruthie had been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. The Angel of Death, it seemed, was finally catching up with our dear Rut Ahava bat Sora Masha. In May, Ruthie’s medical team sent her to the ICU. When Josh and I went to visit her there, doctors believed she had hours left to live.
But, incredibly, Ruthie not only survived. 2 weeks later she was deemed well enough to return home. The liver specialist treating Ruthie said her recovery from the brink of death was nothing short of “unbelievable.”
We were surprised, but then again, for as long as we’ve known her Ruthie has been a walking miracle.
I guess that explains our disbelief this past Thursday night when we found out that Ruthie had finally passed away. When I wrote my daughter, Hadas, who is backpacking around India this summer, to tell her that Ruthie had passed away, she was saddened and shocked. “How could Ruthie be gone?” she responded, “I thought she was immortal!”
So I want to ask, what was Ruthie’s secret? How did she survive to the age of 38? Defying all expectations.
Often, when we spoke, Sharon told me what she believed were the 2 secrets behind her daughter’s ongoing miraculous survival: Firstly, the holiness of the Land of Israel, which Sharon and Ruthie called home for over 3 decades, And, secondly, all the dedicated people praying for Ruthie around the world.
But I want to add a third secret to Ruthie’s survival–which her mother didn’t mention. Because her 3rd secret of survival WAS her mother.
Sharon Saunders was a lioness, untiringly protecting her daughter, seeking out the best doctors, and going to battle with the medical establishment when that was what was needed in order to get Ruthie the care she needed to stay alive.
Anyone who knew them will tell you that Ruthie and Sharon were not your average mother and daughter. They were best friends. They laughed a ton together. They fought the good fight together. They loved each other so very very much.
At the shiva last night, I told Sharon that I was so sorry that I’d only heard that Ruthie had passed away after the funeral had already taken place. And Sharon told me, with obvious sadness, that many people who she wished they could have been there missed the funeral, because it took place quickly, only a few hours after Ruthie had passed away. But Sharon told me they decided to do the burial as quickly as possible because she heard that between the death and the burial, the soul of the deceased suffers.
After her death, as during her life, Sharon always, always did EVERYTHING she could for Ruthie.
Following her death, I’m still left with the question. How did Sharon and her then-husband do it? How did they adopt a child who, they were told, would only live for several years?
The answer, I’m thinking, is the same as the reason behind Ruthie’s survival until the age of 38.
Unconditional, fierce, mind-boggling love.
יהי זכרה ברוך.


  1. Amazing Jennie. Thank you.

  2. Baruch Dayan Haemet. The unconditional love and tefillot is so strong here. Thank you for sharing with us.

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